Ever since André Téchiné’s WILD REEDS/‘94 raised the bar on gay coming-of-adolescent films, other filmmakers have despaired of getting within striking distance. All the more credit, then, to writer/director Barry Jenkins for coming near the mark, at least in the first two-acts of this insightful, poetic and a bit too self-regarding work. Split formally into three sections (Grade School; High School; 30-Something Adulthood), we follow the young Chiron as he walks a fine line thru more than his share of childhood identity crises. Bullied, and eventually brutalized, both in & out of school, his mother an inconsistent mix of love, worry, disregard and a worsening drug habit, he finds an unlikely surrogate father-figure in a local drug dealer, and a surrogate mother in his girlfriend, the couple unexpectedly non-judgmental about his sexual identity questions. The jump to high school is smoothly handled, with events rising organically out of concise dramatic incidents even when Jenkins’ all andante pacing feels forced on the material. And that forced feeling turns problematic in the third section, with Chiron too neatly closing the circle on his emotional journey. The film goes, quite literally, touchy-feely.
DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, WILD REEDS.