Gritty, en­dear­ing ‘Moon­light’ climbs quickly in Toronto

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - An­drea Man­dell @an­drea­man­dell USA TO­DAY

There’s a new crit­i­cal dar­ling in town.

At Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, fest­go­ers are trad­ing lists of what they’ve seen, liked and loved. One query of­ten heard: “Have you seen Moon­light?”

“It’s clear that the busy, creaky ma­chin­ery of Os­car sea­son — driven by jour­nal­ists and fre­quently set in mo­tion at fes­ti­vals like Toronto and Tel­luride — has al­ready be­gun to grind in the movie’s fa­vor,” wrote Los An­ge­les

Times film critic Justin Chang.

Co-pro­duced by Brad Pitt,

Moon­light is a com­ing-of-age story adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s bi­o­graph­i­cal play and di­rected by Barry Jenk­ins ( Medicine for Melan­choly). The film, which un­folds in three chap­ters, fol­lows the jour­ney of an im­pov­er­ished African-Amer­i­can child named Ch­i­ron grow­ing up in the projects of Mi­ami.

The first finds skinny 10-yearold Ch­i­ron (Alex Hib­bert), nick­named “Lit­tle,” re­lent­lessly bul­lied and left to fend for him­self by his crack ad­dict mother (Naomie Har­ris), un­til he meets Juan (Ma­her­shala Ali), a drug dealer who takes him un­der his wing. Then comes the se­cond chap­ter with Ch­i­ron at 16 (Ash­ton Sanders), tor­mented by his class­mates and com­ing to terms with be­ing gay. Fi­nally, a decade later, Ch­i­ron (Tre­vante Rhodes) is shown as an adult re­made into a for­mi­da­ble drug dealer him­self.

At the film’s gala de­but Satur­day, the au­di­ence gave a rous­ing stand­ing ova­tion. Dur­ing the Q&A that fol­lowed, Ali wiped away tears as McCraney said his per­for­mance brought back mem­o­ries of the real drug dealer who helped him learn to ride a bike as a child. “I miss that drug dealer dearly. To sit with him for 45 min­utes (on­screen) is a gift,” McCraney said.

Ch­i­ron and Juan’s re­la­tion­ship “speaks to who black peo­ple have ac­cess to in the neigh­bor­hoods,” Ali told USA TO­DAY. “I’m not go­ing to say a drug dealer is the best role model, but men­tors can come in all shapes and sizes. And the fact that this par­tic­u­lar per­son had enough em­pa­thy in his heart to reach out and help this young man is some­thing that re­ally in­spired me as an ac­tor.” The Moon

light script blew Ali away. “There are so many young black boys who just don’t have fa­ther fig­ures, for a myr­iad of rea­sons,” he said. “To be able to play some­body who was so sup­port­ive of him just hits a place in my heart.”

Har­ris ac­knowl­edged that the ab­sen­tee mother was a tough role to sign on for. “I had real is­sues with tak­ing on the char­ac­ter,” the English ac­tress said at the Q&A. “I al­ways said I was only go­ing to por­tray pos­i­tive im­ages of black women. I drew the line at play­ing a crack ad­dict. But then I read this in­cred­i­ble script that moved me so much. ... I re­al­ized I had so much judg­ment about what it means to be a crack ad­dict. With any form of ad­dic­tion, there’s a beat­ing heart un­der­neath it.” Crit­ics are swoon­ing, with Roll

ing Stone deem­ing it a “master­piece.” It hits the­aters Oct. 21.

A24

DAVID BORNFRIEND, A24

Ma­her­shala Ali teaches Alex Hib­bert, float­ing, about more than swim­ming in Moon­light.

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