If Beale Street Could Talk - 2018
Director(s): Barry Jenkins
Writer(s): Barry Jenkins (screenplay) / James Baldwin (novel)
Cinematography by: James Laxton
Editor(s): Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders
Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Aujanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Finn Wittrock, Pedro Pascal, Brian Tyree Henry and Dave Franco
If Beale Street Could Talk was on my list at the start of 2018. Barry Jenkins' Moonlight (2017's Best Picture winner), is one of the few films that wanders around in my head from time to time, as key images stored in my consciousness pop up. If Beale Street Could Talk is also one of the more frustrating films of the year, as it had a slow release schedule, and the wait was torture. Finally coming to Cincinnati, I can say it was worth the wait. Let's talk about it.
The story is an adaptation of James Baldwin's novel of the same name. It follows a young couple, Tish (Rivers) and Fonny (James), as they deal with the recent incarceration of Fonny. Tish is pregnant with their first child, and she and their family are trying to prove Fonny's innocents. Jenkins' screenplay perfectly captures the spirit of Baldwin's prose style and a mixture of eloquence and rhetorical force. The story is one that sadly fits our times as it deals with the oppression of black men through the justice system. The struggle of the families is suffocating as all you want for them is to overcome this situation, and knowing that many families deal with this today only adds to the sense of desperation. The flow of the story and the love and care put into each of the characters shines through the dialogue and the visual motif played out throughout the runtime. The film manages to be beautiful and heartwarming while destroying you in the process.
Quick note: the scene in where Tish reveals to the parents of Fonny that she is pregnant, was tense, funny, and too real. Every single cast member killed it — fantastic writing.
Jenkins' attention to detail shines once again, through his camera work, color pallet, and tonal structure. The camera movements feel like a dance as it bounces from character to character during a conversation without cutting away, not letting the audience breakaway from the rough topic discussed. I loved the color pallet used both during the flashbacks, and the current day events. During the flashbacks, Jenkins used the color yellow on both Trish and Fonny, representing the joy, hope, and optimism of the love they are cultivating in their relationship. During the current events, Jenkins used the color green on Trish, representing her fertility and perseverance. While Fonny is wearing blue conveying his depression of being in jail and the loyalty he has towards Trish. Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton created a beautiful scene after a beautiful scene, with the one of Trish and Fonny walking through the rainy streets of New York under a red umbrella being my favorite.
Quick note: the score from Nicholas Britell, mainly composed of violins, was magnetic as it stuck to each scene used in and helped elevated the emotions that played out.
The entire cast was incredible. Regina King as Sharon mother of Trish is compelling and the definition of matriarchy. Colman Domingo as Joseph father of Trish is a hip cat that has the needs of his family ever present in his mind, always putting them first. Teyonah Parris as Ernestine sister of Trish is a scene-stealing powerhouse that has one of the best lines of the entire movie. Brian Tyree Henry as Daniel friend of Fonny somehow managed to be the funniest, brightest spot of the film and yet his monologue regarding prison haunts me as I write this review. And I would watch an entire movie centered around Aunjanue Ellis's Mrs. Hunt, mother of Fonny and devout Christian that does not approve of the relationship. Her character could have easily been a caricature of a religious person, but it came across genuine and effortless.
The leads KiKi Layne and Stephan James shine through their breathtaking chemistry. The story will not work if the audience doesn't believe in their love and commitment. Jenkins' shoots multiple close-ups in where they have to convey all their love, joy, hope and pain with their eyes and facial expressions, and both knocked it out of the park. I hope this is just a stepping stone of two great careers.
If Beale Street Could Talk can easily go down as Jenkins' masterpiece. Visually compelling, with cinematography as beautiful as the loved shared between the leads. The flow of the story takes you through a rollercoaster of emotions that by the end you don't know if you should be sad or hopeful. Jenkins once again brought out incredible performances from every single actor in the cast. The themes of racism and love in the face of racism are ones that are needed to be explored and dissected today, and this film can serve as a great entry point for important conversations. Barry Jenkins is why I love movies.
If Beale Street Could Talk is Why I Love Movies.
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