If Beale Street Could Talk
Director: Barry Jenkins
Writers: Barry Jenkins, James Baldwin
Stars: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo
After winning Best Picture (in one of the most memorable award announcements in recent memory) for his first high profile feature Moonlight, all eyes were on Barry Jenkins. What would he do next? Would he be able to follow it up with another groundbreaking hit? The answer is a resounding yes with If Beale Street Could Talk.
Adapted from the novel by beloved African-American writer James Baldwin, this story of a young couple’s relationship that unfolds and is strained by the young man’s unjust incarceration is heart breaking, beautiful and ultimately incredibly timely. Race relations, police brutality and the undeniably discriminatory high rate of young black men behind bars, many for small crimes and misdemeanors, hangs heavy over this otherwise simple love story.
The main couple, Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) are the perfect image of true love. And what an image it is as framed by Jenkins and his cinematographer James Laxton (also from Moonlight). Jenkins is a director who uses many close-ups to pull you in and force you to see his characters for who they are. Beautiful people who are doing their best with their situation.
Regina King recently won Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes for playing Tish’s mom, and an Oscar for the performance is almost a sure thing. She’s fantastic and although it’s not her story, she is in many ways the heart of the film with her loving and understanding and desire to see things work out for her daughter. Equally good is her dad, played by Colman Domingo in an absolutely warm and joyful performance. But really, the whole cast is excellent, and this otherwise heavy film is injected with plenty of humor to cut the tension of the realization that this family is never going to get to live the normal American life they deserve.
This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the amazing score from Nicholas Britell. It at times uses a jazz influence that blends perfectly into the classic jazz songs played in the characters’ homes, and then in an instant changes to gorgeous, haunting ambient tones. It’s my favorite score of 2018, and Britell is fast becoming one of my favorite working composers.