Release Date: October 21, 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
Writer: Barry Jenkins, Tarell McCraney
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Jaden Piner, Herman ‘Caheei McGloun, Kamal Ani-Bellow, Keomi Givens, Eddie Blanchard, Rudi Goblen, Ashton Sanders, Edson Jean, Patrick Decile, Herveline Moncion, Jharrel Jerome, Fransley Hyppolite, Jesus Mitchell, Larry Anderson, Tanisha Cidel, Trevante Rhodes, Stephon Bron, Andre Holland
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 110 minutes
Production Company: A24, Plan B Entertainment
I went in expecting one thing, but got something a bit different. Something a bit unexpected. It wasn't just in that the depiction of Miami was different than is typically seen, but in the story itself and in the storytelling of the life and experiences of Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes). Typically, when you go to a coming of age film, you may expect to watch the unfolding of the main character discovering his or her identity as it is shaped by his or her experiences. Here, it seems Chiron is never truly given the opportunity, or breathing room, to discover his true identity. Rather, other people forcibly impose upon him what they see his identity as, and having to endure tough situations like bullying and a mother (Naomie Harris) addicted to crack, he is unable to partake in self-discovery others may take for granted. This seems to be reflected in the third chapter when we are introduced to Chiron as an adult, and he has seemingly taken on the identity of someone from his past. An identity that is eventually questioned in the film, is it truly who he is? Does he know who he is?
And what came together at the end was that this story was really about an individual who was unable to receive love, nurturing, attention, and connection from the people a child would expect it from; like a mother and potential mate. One would suspect Chiron might not have been able to endure it without the unexpected, surrogate nurturing and love from Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Theresa (Janelle Monae). It wasn't until the third chapter of the film that this revelation of an even higher and universal story really set in, making the film even more moving and impactful.
The storytelling was also different than expected. Initially, I felt cheated in that I wanted more from the first chapter in regards to what was shared in the story. By the second chapter I wanted more details and explanations, like how and when a character died. However, I soon realized more details, greater explanations, covering a longer time period, were all unnecessary. We as an audience were given a glimpse into the moments of Chiron's life that shaped who he became and what he needed and desired by the end of the film. Writer and director, Barry Jenkins, describes it as, "Unlike most coming of age films, our story takes the form of a triptych - three episodes that explore the most pivotal moments in our protagonist's quarter life. Rather than churn through decades of life as story, we observe Chiron in real-time - coming apart, coming together over the course of days and hours rather than years - a character being shaped before our eyes."
In addition to the story, the actors did a wonderful job. Alex R. Hibbert, who played Little in the first chapter, did a phenomenal job! He had to portray a range of emotions through a variety of experiences, with many of the scenes calling for him to be silent. And he pulled it off in amazing fashion! Ashton Sanders, as the teenage Chiron in the second chapter, did a great job, as well. He too had a range of experiences and emotions he had to play, with his experiences ranging from physical altercations to Chiron's only sexual experience in the film. Trevante Rhodes, who played Black in the final chapter, convincingly portrayed an adult Chiron who despite seemingly accepting a now self-imposed persona also has some self-realization that it may not be his true identity. In the moments shared in the final chapter he is attempting to begin some exploration of what his true identity may be and in a way he was unable to in the first two chapters.
Naomie Harris gave a very believable portrayal of a single mother battling a drug addiction. Though not in as much of the film as one might expect, Mahershala Ali puts on a performance that makes it easy to see why Juan would be as impactful in Chiron's life as he seems to be later in the film. Andre Holland also did a good job in the film. And of note, Janelle Monae did a great job as a second mother of sorts to Chiron, and I look forward to seeing her in Hidden Figures.