Barry Jenkins’s film Moonlight is a Romantic masterpiece of the highest order. It is a comprehensive exultation of self-discovery told in three sections, each detailing the events in the life of Chiron, a black gay boy growing up in the Liberty Square projects of Miami, Florida. The three parts show Chiron at different ages: as a young boy in part one (“Little”), a teenager in part two (“Chiron”), and a young man in part three (“Black”), and each version of Chiron is portrayed by a different actor. Chiron’s life is full of hardship, as he is forced to deal with growing up poor, navigating the minefield of his mother’s drug abuse problem, and his burgeoning homosexuality. The chapters of Moonlight add up to a magnificent and timeless whole: a complex elucidation of a man and the choices he makes in effort to learn about himself, the world, and his place in it.
In American Honey, writer-director Andrea Arnold crafts a coming-of-age story about teenage wanderlust that practically feels like a documentary. The film is a peculiar slice of life, both immersive and engrossing, and while watching it you feel as though you are just another member of the rag-tag crew. The camerawork and a score driven by pop music enhance the realism of the film. The story focuses around a group of young people who sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door. Full of an ensemble cast of mostly non-actors, American Honey wanders through life with dubious morals, sexual and emotional exploration, and the pace of a buddy road trip movie – just with about a dozen buddies.
We’ve seen one person manage the duties of a writer, director, and actor in the past, and sometimes it goes really well. Missing Child, the brainchild of Luke Sabis, is not one of these times. Nearly every aspect of this droll thriller falls flat. It sports a confusing story that never really feels focused. There are only three real characters, all of which lack clear motivation at various points and are portrayed by actors that are in over their heads (especially Sabis). There is a kernel of an interesting story here, and by squinting one could come to admire the intention behind this mess. But, mostly we’re left with a paint-by-numbers “disturbing thriller” that can never hone its focus long enough to accomplish much of value.