Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)

Image is property of AnnaPurna Pictures and Plan B

If Beale Street Could Talk – Film Review

Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna
Pedro Pascal

Director: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: After finding out she is expecting a baby with her partner, a young woman and her family seek to clear her lover’s name after he is arrested for a crime he did not commit…

Review: What do you do when only your second feature length directorial feature wins you an Academy Award for its screenplay, as well as (eventually) the Academy Award for Best Picture? This was the quandary for Barry Jenkins, the writer/director of Moonlight, having been catapulted him into the spotlight by the film’s incredible success. The answer to that question, is to make something that’s cut from a similar cloth as Moonlight, a story that tells a very human, emotional journey.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, we are taken back to 1970s Harlem, where we meet Tish (Layne) and Alfonso (or Fonny as Tish affectionately calls him), two beautiful young people who, having been very close as children, have since become a blossoming couple, seemingly made for one another. However, their romantic bubble is burst when when Fonny is arrested and charged with a horrific crime that Tish insists he is innocent of, and Tish and her family must do whatever they can to clear Fonny of these charges.

On the surface, this would appear to be a simple story about the love that two young people have for each other, and the desperate bid to prove her husband-to-be innocent of the crime he is being accused of. And while it is undeniably beautiful and romantic to watch these two fall in love with each other, much like his work with Moonlight Jenkins’s screenplay goes much deeper than that exploring a variety of themes such as racism, family and the brutal horrors of the justice system that can bring such an unfair injustices to Black communities and devastate these families across America, even when people may be innocent of the crimes they are being accused of.

As the main couple, KiKi Layne and Stephan James are both excellent. Their chemistry is just so honest and authentic that you completely buy them as a couple. You revel in their moments of love and affection for one another, and are equally devastated when they are torn away from one another. As Tish’s mother Sharon, Regina King is just utterly marvellous as she leads the fight to win her prospective son-in-law’s freedom, even in the face of extremely long and difficult odds, and indifference from some members of Fonny’s family to Tish’s plight.

The cinematography from James Laxton is once again sumptuous to look out, even when the circumstances may be extremely bleak, his cinematography shines a hopeful light on the situation of this couple. Nicholas Britell also returns to provide the score, and once again, the work he does to add to the romanticism and by contrast, the heartbreak of this story is remarkable. For those who might have had issues with Moonlight’s pacing, they could well run into some issues again here as Jenkins does take his time to slowly build up Tish and Fonny’s relationship. Though some scenes do feel necessary, others do drag on perhaps for a tad longer than they really need to.

For characters depicted in the 1970s, Jenkins’s characters feel very contemporary and the story and the themes are very topical, but the film never gets preachy with the events depicted on screen. It is above all else, a very sweet story about the love two people have for one another, and the challenge that the human spirit faces when facing the going up against the cruel nature of the world and its institutions, Barry Jenkins has once again crafted something that, in these very emotionally charged times, he has made a film that will speak something to everyone who sees it.

Beautiful and melancholic,sometimes in the same shot, with a fantastic ensemble of well realised characters, Jenkins once again crafts a moving tale of love and hope in the face of terrible adversity.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Moonlight (2017)

Image is property of A24, Plan B Entertainment and Pastel Productions

Moonlight – Film Review

Cast: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali

Director: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: Set in three distinct acts, chronicling the life of a young black boy growing up in Miami, charting his childhood, teenage years and finally his growth to adulthood.

Review: Growing up no matter who you are can be extremely difficult, no matter the circumstances. However, there is in certain parts of the world, a massive stigma that is attached towards people who are homosexual, which for any person in that situation, can be extremely difficult to come to terms with who you are. This makes Barry Jenkins’s coming of age drama about a young black boy growing up in a difficult Miami neighbourhood feel particularly relevant and poignant, what with the extremely delicate racial tensions occurring in the USA right now.

Adapted from In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, an unfinished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, we follow young Chiron in three stages of his life: childhood, adolescence and adulthood (played in each by Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes respectively). To say he leads a difficult life is an extreme understatement. Picked on at school, an absent father whose whereabouts are never disclosed,  a mother who is addicted to drugs (Harris) and facing questions about his sexuality. In comes Juan, a father figure to Chiron who fills that void that so desperately needed filling. With the help of Juan, Chiron seeks to find his place in the world.

YE-Film-Top 10

With three distinct acts, the film chooses to not do what Boyhood did and narrow its focus to a few quite specific points in this three very different stages of life. This first act is the Mahershala Ali show, he’s the figure that Chiron needs in his life right now and there are a few scenes in particular that feel raw and emotional. With the move to adolescence, Juan is now out of the picture and although Sanders’s performance feels very raw, Juan is sorely missed as his absence is really felt. Jenkins script and direction helps to capture that struggle that it’s quite possible every teenager goes through, which is only compounded when you’re getting ruthlessly picked on because of your sexuality.

However, despite the delicate themes that the film seeks to explore, there is something in Jenkins’s screenplay that feels absent. As emotionally impactful as the subject matter may be, there isn’t really enough to really engage the audience or to get them to care about Chiron perhaps as much as they should. The dialogue at times feels drawn out and aimless in its direction, and though there is some character development, there is not sufficiently enough to the point where you feel completely invested in the life of this young man as you really ought to, and the final act in particular drifts painfully aimlessly to an extremely melancholic conclusion.

Alongside Ali, Naomie Harris gives perhaps her best ever performance as Chiron’s drug addicted mother. A woman who clearly loves her son, but though she tries so hard to show it, her addiction really harms their relationship. Harris rightfully scooped an Oscar nomination for her impact performance, and Ali went one step further and also very deservedly became the first Muslim actor to win an acting Oscar.

Nicholas Britell’s accompanying score is also worthy of immense praise, adding to the raw emotion really effectively in particular scenes. The Best Picture gong at the 89th Academy Awards indicates that there is no shortage of admirers for Moonlight, but for a film that has such delicate subject matter, there was a real opportunity to make a powerful statement, but with such an uninspiring third act, it feels like a glorious opportunity squandered.

With great performances from Ali and Harris, there’s something to be admired about tackling such tricky subject matter, but the end result is just not as compelling in a way that it could, and perhaps ought to be.