A Film Review
Barry Jenkins’s long-awaited follow-up to Moonlight (2016), If Beale Street Could Talk, is based off the novel by acclaimed author, James Baldwin, and is a beautiful look at the struggles of a Harlem couple set in the 1970s. The woman, Tish (KiKi Layne), discovers she is pregnant, and through flashbacks and present day scenes we learn about her relationship with her boyfriend, Alonzo (Stephan James), also known as Fonny. As an intimate look at their relationship, the movie is a brilliant, moody, period piece, and is truly stunning and beautiful. It is an absolute winner in every sense of the word.
If Beale Street Could Talk also works well in the moments between Tish and her family. The relationships Tish has with her mother (Regina King) and father (Colman Domingo) are close and real. And, despite all the odds, this struggling African American family continues to pray and hope for better things. This sentiment fits into the film’s larger themes of acceptance and loyalty. The intimacy Tish has with her parents and sister are carried over into her relationship with her boyfriend, Fonny, who ends up spending too much time behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
The movie is truly Tish’s, because most of the story is told from her perspective and she is a vivid and unconquerable character. In this lead role, KiKi Layne is a great discovery. She is a relatable performer and her narration helps to develop her character, her emotions, and her relationship with Fonny in a remarkably romantic way. Even in a year full of great new discovery performances, Layne stands out among the very best. Regina King is also terrific in her role as Tish’s mother as evident by her Academy Award nomination and Stephan James (Selma, 2014), as Fonny, is charming and likeable, and we want to see justice prevail for him.
The setting for the film, Harlem, feels “alive”, and the supporting cast uses it to make the most of their short scenes. The cinematography by James Laxton is truly stunning. It is a real work of art. Some images are downright, drop dead gorgeous, and the color coordination and costumes are almost mesmerizing. Best of all, though, is Nicholas Britell’s gorgeous score, which is one of the loveliest of the year. Full of moody, downbeat, romantic jazz sounds, led by a solo trumpet to boot, it compliments the film splendidly.
Adapting James Baldwin’s prose and dialogue is not an easy task for any director, but Barry Jenkins pulls it off admirably which is a fantastic accomplishment. If Beale Street Could Talk is one of those films that lingers in my mind and will continue to do so into the future. If this proves anything, it’s that Jenkins’ award winning Film of the Year, Moonlight, was no mere fluke, and that Barry Jenkins is a director to watch out for in the future. I give the film my highest grade possible, and recommend that you check it out.
Now playing in Hanover at The Nugget Theater - Mon-Thurs 4:20 and 6:50 PM, Fri - 4:20, 6:50 and 9:15 PM and Sun 1:50, 4:20 and 6:50 PM.