Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2016. A24, PASTEL, Plan B Entertainment. Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Screenplay by Barry Jenkins. Cinematography by James Laxton. Produced by Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski. Music by Nicholas Britell. Production Design by Hannah Beachler. Costume Design by Caroline Eselin. Film Editing by Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders. Academy Awards 2016. Golden Globe Awards 2016. Gotham Awards 2016. Independent Spirit Awards 2016. New York Film Critics Awards 2016. Toronto International Film Festival 2016. Washington Film Critics Awards 2016.
The three act structure of standard film storytelling is finely and formally divided into three stages in the development of a man’s life. His unhappy childhood with a mother (Naomie Harris) trapped in a cycle of addiction is relieved only by the existence of a kindhearted drug dealer (Mahershala Ali) and his wife (Janelle Monáe); the boy’s adolescence as a bullied high school student is alleviated solely by the existence of a friend who takes him towards his sexual development; his adulthood as his own version of his surrogate father has him trying to hide his soulful nature behind a tough exterior but is challenged by the deepest human connection of his life. Barry Jenkins’ drawn out, subtle style is beautifully applied to a poetic and sexy meditation on repressed desire blessed with terrific acting and a great sense of tension. The more overtly dramatic turns of the plot are, surprisingly, the falser notes it strikes, the adult protagonist facing off with his mother is not nearly as powerful as the many long, melancholy silences that Jenkins films with such skill.