A thoughtful and interesting film, about a somewhat smaller and more personal topic than is typical for an Oscar Best Picture winner. The movie follows the life of a young boy, Chiron, growing up in a poor part of Miami, and is presented in three acts — elementary school, high school and young adulthood. Chiron is small and quiet, and is often bullied. He doesn’t get much help at home either — he is being “raised” by a single mother with a major substance abuse problem. Like most “survivor” children, Chiron finds help from caring outsiders. This is not a traditional Hollywood “kid succeeds against all odds movie. But by the end, Chiron has become an honest, emotionally mature adult — whatever happens in the rest of his life, you feel sure he is not going to repeat the cycle of violence and abuse he grew up with.
Barry Jenkins is a relatively young director — this is only his third feature-length film. His inexperience shows in some awkward transitions. Characters disappear or have major things happen to them between acts — you might miss them if you’re not paying close attention to what seems like casual dialogue. (The more experienced Richard Linklater handled similar episodic transitions in Boyhood much more deftly). The characters of Chiron and his childhood friend Kevin are played by different actors in each act, which is confusing until you figure out who is who. And the pace is very slow; even for someone like me, with a high tolerance for deliberately-paced movies, some of the scenes, particularly in the second act, tend to drag. A
These relatively small flaws do not detract from the power of the third act, where a now young adult Chiron confronts some of the characters from his early life. Suddenly a boy who could barely put three words together speaks powerfully and honestly about his own inner life. It’s riveting stuff, and it projects a kind of emotional honesty that is rare in movies.