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This achingly beautiful coming of ager leaves its mark on both heart and soul.

Told over three chapters, we watch a young boy grow up in inner city Miami. It’s remarkable how astute the character study is, given the structure of the story telling and the fact that our central character is played by three different actors. We don’t know whether to cringe or cheer when Little, a gradeschooler about to be beat up, is rescued by a worried drug dealer. When, as a teen, he confronts his drug addicted mother, we ache for his desperate attempts at a safe life. And, as a bulked up dealer himself, we don’t know whether to hold out hope that he’ll ever escape a destined pattern.

Writer/director Barry Jenkins takes on a lot here: even though he occasionally slips, the storytelling is effective and acted beautifully throughout. Particularly impressive are Naomi Harris, who adds considerable depth to the somewhat stock character of the mother, and Mahershala Ali, a knockout as Little’s problematic role model.

A somewhat slow, deliberate pace might frustrate some viewers, but it also offers us time to bask in the glow of Jenkins’ terrific visual sense, along with some just gorgeous cinematography.

And, in my case anyway, it gave me time to watch and wonder how a society allows, in real life, the Littles of our world to live in such precarious situations. This is a movie that makes you want to not just rescue its hero, but celebrate his eventual, hard earned peace.

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