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On the surface, what we have here is a daring and unique character study that does have limited appeal, despite its tapping into some very universal emotions, but 2016's Moonlight is an effectively crafted look at one young man's quest for his identity that struck a chord with movie audiences and has earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture of the Year. This is another one of those movies that never goes anywhere you think it's going to go and requires patience that is rewarded to a degree.

The story opens with the introduction of Chirone,a young boy who is known as Little. He is a painfully shy and emotionally stilted child who is neglected by his crack addict mother, Paula (Naomie Harris) but finds solace and sanctuary with his mother's dealer (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend (Janell Monae). Our initial introduction to Little reveals that he is a victim of constant childhood hazing in his neighborhood that he only understands to a point but does have one friend his own age named Kevin. The story then shifts to Chirone's teenage years where we see the beginning of the end for his mother and an ugly turning point in his relationship with Kevin. Chirone, his mother, and Kevin are then visited as the boys have become young adults and all three have gone through profound changes in their lives but certain connections still exist and are explored.

Director and writer Barry Jenkins has crafted a deliberate and detailed look at the evolution of an African American male whose journey of self-discovery goes several places we don't expect it to and, to be honest, a lot of the places where Chirone's life go to are going to be difficult for Caucasian audiences to relate to but this version of teen angst mounted during the middle portion of the film is rich with universal themes that are familiar to anyone who survived their teenage years, which were all about popularity, sexual discovery, peer pressure, and fighting back...this part of the film is quite strong with a climax that was nothing short of startling, but nothing out of the realism is presented here and there is nothing here that any African American male past the age of 16 will either vicariously relate to or feel a semblance of guilt for participating in some of the ugly behavior displayed.

But where this story really shines is the final third where Chirone and Kevin reconnect as young adults...these characters have gone through a lot of change since being teenagers, including stints in jail and this Chirone is nothing like Little, but the reunion with Kevin is a slow and tension-filled dance where Jenkins puts the viewer on pins and needles waiting for something that is hinted at in subtext, but Jenkins makes us work for it and what we are expecting is delivered but it is delivered with something I wasn't expecting...taste.

The three actors playing Chirone bring this single character vividly to life, with standout work from Ashton Sanders as teenage Chirone. There are also a pair of powerhouse performances from Naomie Harris as Chirone's mother and Mahershala Ali as her dealer that both earned Oscar nominations. The film also features striking camera work, film editing, and an evocative music score that frames this surprisingly delicate story with the loving care it deserves, limited appeal nothwithstanding.