Review: “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a timely, moving experience

In many ways, “If Beale Street Could Talk” feels like a direct response to writer/director Barry Jenkins last film, the 2016 Best Picture winning “Moonlight.” Whereas “Moonlight” was a story of loneliness and depression, “Beale Street” is one of strength and love.

The cinematography in “Moonlight” was realistic and full of cold blues and purples. “Beale Street” is filmed like some street fantasy film, everything has a hopeful, orange tint to it. Finally, if “Moonlight” threw Jenkins’ hat into the ring of modern cinematic forces, “Beale Street” is that hat gloriously sticking the landing.

The story of the film is simple. Tish (KiKi Layne), a pregnant black woman living in 1970’s New York, and her family work to release Fonny (Stephan James), the father of Tish’s unborn child, after he is falsely accused and imprisoned.

The plot’s simplicity gives Jenkins room to breath and do what he does best, squeeze all of the possible emotion out of a scene like some existential lemon.

This film was able to do something rare. At several points I found myself getting choked up, not because the movie was sad, but because it accurately portrayed some of life’s most intimate and happy moments. It felt as if I was in the room, experiencing these characters emotions first hand.

This is of course only made possible by the rock solid cast. KiKi Layne and Stephan James play the two leads perfectly. They aptly capture the confusion, elation and hard headed conviction of young, passionate love.

However, the real star of the show is Regina King as Tish’s mother Sharon. A worn down but ultimately strong character, King brings a certain warm, loving power to every scene she’s in. There has been much award talk around King’s performance, and rightly so. In a film filled to the brim with talented actors and actresses, she takes the gold.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” isn’t without its shortcomings. While the simple plot is one of it’s greatest assets, it also becomes a hindrance. Points in the movie do drag as Jenkins spends large amounts of time fleshing out characters or themes.This sometimes makes it feel like there’s no end in sight and Fonny will forever be in jail.

But all of that falls to wayside when you’re fully enveloped in the experience. The film’s depiction of love is both epic and personal. The script isn’t always the strongest but in the end, the film isn’t about the story it’s trying to tell. It’s about the things it wants you to feel, and the range of emotions offered are staggering.

The film is both timely, speaking bluntly on racial and social issues that persist today, and timeless as the central message is one of the world’s oldest: love conquers all. With everything this film does right, “Beale Street” does more than talk. It sings.

mason.robert.dredge@mail.umkc.edu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *