“Love brought you here. If you trusted love this far, trust it all the way.”
Writer/Director Barry Jenkins made quite the splash two years ago with his Oscar winning film Moonlight, so it stands to reason his follow-up film would be highly anticipated. Thankfully, Beale Street not only lives up to the hype, but in some instances exceeds the massive achievement that Jenkins achieved with his previous work.
If Beale Street Could Talk tells the story of a young, pregnant woman Tish (expertly played by Kiki Layne) who finds her life upended when her boyfriend Fonny (Stephen James) is falsely accused and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. Tish’s family rallies behind her as they try everything in their means to get Fonny free.
Jenkins’s latest film is a bit of a departure from Moonlight. Based on the novel by James Baldwin, it’s much more of a traditional film, reminiscent of a more classical style of filmmaking that you’d see in the late 60s. That’s not to say it’s without its flares, more simply it evokes a feeling of old Hollywood, boasting an ensemble cast and a clear cut narrative that lets the audience know what the film is sayings and exactly how it’s going to do it (with pure emotion).
Beale Street is a love story through and through. We see the love grow between Tish and Fonny from their early childhood friendship blossoming into a true love for each other in adulthood. Jenkins does a fantastic job of painting an idealised notion of love between the pair, one that is so profound and honest that when the inevitable tragedy strikes, it leaves you heartbroken. The melancholy is all part of the plan. Jenkins uses Baldwin’s source material to show us that love, no matter how strong and how pure, can sometimes not survive the type of suffering the characters go through without becoming irrevocably changed. It’s a profound exploration of both love and character.
Layne and James both bring a youthful exuberance to their performances as Tish and Fonny. You truly believe they’re in love and the innocence that both are able to bring to their characters has the audience instantly falling for them and connecting to their struggle. The true stand out in the cast however is Regina King playing Tish’s strong-willed mother in a truly career-changing performance. Whenever she appears on screen all other characters seem to melt away, as she dominates with both grace and earnestness, making her a front runner for this year’s supporting actress Oscar.
Once again joining Jenkins behind the camera is his long-time cinematographer James Laxton who creates a more subdued visual tone than he did for Moonlight. While it’s not as flashy as the previous film, it’s without a doubt a gorgeous film to look at, while Nicolas Brittel’s haunting score works to emphasise both the love and loss that the characters are feeling.
It’s safe to say that If Beale Street Could Talk won’t have as big an impact on the culture as Moonlight did, however it’s a truly breath-taking film. Exploring complex issues of love, loss, racism, family and belonging, it’s a film that will provoke conversation about the issues Baldwin raised back in the 70s that are just as relevant today.
8 out of 10.
Reviewed by Chris Swan