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Baldwin's novel "follows Tish, a newly engaged Harlem woman who races against the clock to prove her lover's innocence while carrying their first born child. It's a celebration of love told through the story of a young couple, their families, and their lives."Written by
Barry Jenkins creates another beautiful film, yet fails to deliver its dramatic potential.
Filmmaker Barry Jenkins received both critical acclaim and numerous awards including Best Picture at the Academy Awards for his 2016 film Moonlight, an intimate and poetic exploration of one man's alienation and struggle in a society he feels drowned in. Jenkins' next film follows a completely different style, yet similar theme. Based on the 1974 novel by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk has its heart in the right place the entire time, overall achieving what it sets out to do, yet struggles to execute its mission to its best ability.
Set in Harlem during the 1970s, young black couple Tish and Alfonso (Fonny) struggle to deal with the various interferences to their love. Fonny is in prison due to wrongfully being accused of raping a woman, causing Tish to go about with her daily life without emotional support, while Fonny feels trapped in his cell, separated from his emotional support as well. The driving force still connecting the couple is their unborn baby that Tish carries. In addition to their separation, the couple deals with the daily struggle of racism that plagued the 1970s, a time in which the civil rights movement was still fresh and racial justice was still a struggle
Jenkins main goal as a storyteller is to stay true to Baldwin's words and focus on the love story he crafted. While at times the couple feels to perfect and a little too in love, they have a deeply pure connection for each other that most couples can only dream of having. The on-screen chemistry between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James) simply isn't there compared to other romantic films that follow a couple plagued with chaos. Perhaps this is due to Jenkins forcing their love on us, painting too pretty of a picture and excluding the necessary drama to hold them together. While Beale Street deals with a heavy subject matter, the drama and emotion is lacking. The film is too quiet and pretty, only two scenes truly grabbing you and giving you something to feel.
What makes If Beale Street Could Talk work is how its made. Barry Jenkins, being the visual artist he is as a filmmaker, crafts a truly gorgeous vision of Harlem in the 1970s and puts together a stunning film that will captivate the audience throughout. The cinematography captures the characters beautifully, expressing their emotions with detail and precision. The score generates a mood to the film, one that is both haunting and charming simultaneously. Jenkins uses close-up shots to have his audience truly study his characters, allowing us to become more invested in their journey from start to finish.
The performances in this film are all stellar, each actor giving it their absolute best to portray people and not just fictional characters. Regina King is particularly memorable as Tish's mother, who's motherly love and care for her daughter and her happiness drives her character into an emotional rollercoaster.
If Beale Street Could Talk is a strong film, one that generates emotional appeal, yet doesn't fully embrace its dramatic potential. This film won't move you or make you cry most likely, but it will give you an appreciation for Barry Jenkins' directorial vision and for the struggle of a couple who truly love each other. Tish and Fonny both go through gut-wrenching emotional stress that needed to be explored and expressed in a more intense and kinetic fashion instead of the calm, peaceful nature of the film, but from start to finish you'll recognize you're watching an emotional film from the eye of a master filmmaker.
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