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If Beale Street Could Talk – Movie Review

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If Beale Street Could Talk – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films

Two years ago, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight succeeded at showing a young man growing up through three carefully stitched together acts. With If Beale Street Could Talk, Jenkins keeps to a single time period, but still plays with structure in a way that allows us into the lives of a family dealing with turmoil. Through the film’s two hours, the viewer gets to know these people and their story and the context that led to these events. Like Moonlight, it’s a showy and unflashy film that uses flourishes of cinematography and music to guide us through and create a real connection with the material.

The main driving point of Beale Street is the central romance between KiKi Layne’s Tish and Stephan James’s Fonny. The two actors share lovely chemistry and the decision to tell the story non-chronologically allows us to see them together for a large amount of the runtime. There is a natural presence and Jenkins allows us to get to know them properly through a variety of scenes. One scene he allows to play on is when Tish and Fonny go house hunting and it’s a sweet sequence that shows how perfect for each other they are. That Fonny gets incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit is already tragic and those additional moments make it even more heartbreaking.

Tish provides the narration, giving us a further inside peek into the lives of this family. Jenkins’s screenplay knows when to utilise this device to help develop Tish and what she’s going through. The narration is also used to provide context for these New York neighbourhoods that might not be familiar to outsiders. Jenkins focuses a lot on the other family members, too, as they try to reverse this injustice. Regina King gives a very good performance as Tish’s mother, who tries the best she can in this situation. There are a number of solid scenes set within their apartment where Jenkins gives the actors freedom to perform their lines and they provide some of the most riveting moments in the film.

Jenkins fills out the story in other ways. Small appearances by the likes of Diego Luna and Dave Franco might have been distracting in other movies, but in Beale Street, they flesh this neighbourhood out. Another key component is Nicholas Britell’s score, which captures that time and place so perfectly and could have come out of a movie from the 1970’s. The use of light, colour and framing in James Laxton’s cinematography is also tremendous. If Beale Street Could Talk does start to feel its length a bit in the second half, especially in an extended portion where the film starts following Tish’s mother.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a strong follow-up to Moonlight, with characters the audience does grow to care about and a touching love story at its centre. Barry Jenkins has proven himself a good filmmaker in depicting human relationships, preferring subtlety over bombast. This is a movie where even minor characters make an impression and help shape the story being told. The film tackles themes of race and family in a way that’s never forced and while occasionally slow at points, Jenkins makes up for this with the heart underneath the story.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison