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
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.