Directed by: Barry Jenkins – Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King
I absolutely loved Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning, Moonlight, so I was intrigued to see how If Beale Street Could Talk, his follow-up movie, would fare in comparison.
Adapted from the novel of the same name, from the very opening, you can see his stamp all over it, with the lush colours and almost ethereal settings. Although the narrative is nonlinear, in a nutshell the story revolves around Tish (Layne) and Fonny (James), lifelong friends who begin a romantic relationship.
After an unfortunate incident in a mostly-white grocery store, where Tish is harassed, Fonny is forced to defend her. Following a run-in with a cop over that, he later finds himself arrested for a rape that he couldn’t have committed. As Fonny festers in jail waiting for justice, Tish learns that she is pregnant with their child, which makes her even more determined to get him released.
There are many movies about miscarriages of justice, but I can’t think of any that hang the story on a romance. Layne and James have a lovely chemistry, and from the very opening scenes, it is clear that this is a couple who are completely besotted with each other, which makes the unfolding events all the more tragic.
Regina King as Tish’s mother, Sharon, also gives a powerhouse of a performance, and she completely deserved her Golden Globe nomination.
Despite the difficult subject matter, If Beale Street Could Talk remains mesmerising throughout. The cinematography is stunning, and the pacing spot-on, to keep you engaged. Quite often the world of a film isn’t clearly defined – particularly when there are several tangents to a story. But here it is, whether it is Tish and Fonny’s love-bubble, Puerto Rico, jail, or a family home.
Although there are many underlying messages running throughout about racism and profiling, it never feels like it is shoved down your throat. However, when you learn the final outcome, you genuinely feel cheated by it, and you will carry the injustice with you for a long time afterwards.
There is a powerful undercurrent of hope running throughout If Beale Street Could Talk, and you will find yourself completely invested in the characters. The visual beauty of the film juxtaposes nicely with the some of the subject-matter, to force the audience to question what they are seeing.
Entertaining is probably the wrong word to describe If Beale Street Could Talk, as it isn’t always an easy watch. But it is extremely thought-provoking and vibrant. This is a worthy follow up to Moonlight, and should help further enhance Jenkins’ reputation as a fine film-maker.
In Cinemas Now! Trailer below: