This is probably the highest praised film of the last year. It has been applauded almost across the board by critics and Barry Jenkins has been put on a directorial pedestal. I came out of the film satisfied, and impressed, but I can’t say that I loved the film. Part of me is puzzled by the immense praise it has received, and part of me understands. I am hoping I can explain my problems with the film, whilst noticing its beauty.
The film nicely splits its narrative into three parts, where it revolves around a single character that is played by these three actors as he ages: Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Saunders and Trevante Rhodes. From there the film intertwines with the people around him and his interactions with them in key parts of his life. This creates a sense that each piece of drama is important to our lead character and how they evolve as a person. Amongst the supporting cast are Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris who play pivotal roles in the film. They cast a large shadow over our protagonist and are where to keep your eyes in most scenes. As far as the plot goes I was intrigued by the moving parts and the overall progression of where it was going. It felt original in a sense because even though non chronological films are common, this felt more special in its delivery. There was almost a bigger story going on, and they picked out the most vital for the character.
Unfortunately for me the content of the three sections were often too passive. I had nothing invested in each moment, nor did I particularly care. This is not across the board and I was keen to be viewing Ali’s drug dealer Juan, but mostly I was distant from the meaning of each scene. The films moving parts were interesting yes, but moved too slowly. In a way the cogs needed to sped up a little bit. It went from the start of a dialogue to the end with a lot of silence in between and there was nothing accomplished. I wasn’t bored, because the film is well acted and incredibly shot, but I wasn’t that engaged. You could have opened up a setting and the characters and I would have been able to tell you the outcome. I wasn’t surprised or gripped by the film and overall felt almost nothing towards it. And I get that the film isn’t necessarily trying to grab me, so the only way I can justify it is that the film is not mine. The films pacing wasn’t the problem it was its footwork, the steps were too slow.
Despite all of that I enjoyed the film on some levels. First of, it flew by, which kind of contradicts what I said but the breaking up of the narrative allows it to jump along. Just as you are settling in to a time period it moves ahead, which wasn’t a bad thing, I only wish that I cared where it was going. As well as this on a cinematic level the film is remarkable, with director Jenkins really treating us with his artistic work. For long periods the film is so unbelievably attractive on the eyes. It is less precision film making (perhaps like David Fincher) and more art film making, and I loved it. The colours are thick and each actor is placed perfectly in each scene. There is kinetic moments (possible not enough) where the camera takes a life on its own and puts a weight behind a dramatic moment. I was blown away by the opening to the third section where the film had a surge of life out of nowhere where it hadn’t before. The film is full of gorgeous cinematography and mise-en-scene, making the film timeless on a technical level. Once again I give all credit to the DP (James Laxton) who has lit this film with such awe inspiring ability. I would honestly put this film on mute and let it loop on my wall as decoration.
For the major flaws that I feel for this movie, I still understand it’s joy. It’s a film with depth and importance; a story and world that is not often seen in cinema. A selection of themes that are new and complex that I don’t completely understand are at the forefront. They are guided by some wonderful acting in Naomie Harris who is gutting in this role, and Mahershala Ali who is one of the highlights of the run time. His character made a real impact in the film and sustained my enjoyment when I my interest was drifting way. Overall it’s hard for me to say that the film is overrated because I may be blind to its brilliance. I get it, I get why people like it, it’s astonishing in some of the fields of film that I love the most, so I guess it is a shame that I was numb to it’s emotional response it was going for. Thankfully the rest of the world don’t have my brain.