ANNAPURNA PICTURES (2019)

 

Director: Barry Jenkins

 

Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Emily Rios, Ed Skrein, Finn Wittrock, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King

The street would be telling some tales, that’s for sure…

 

Barry Jenkins returns having given us the Academy Award-winning Moonlight in 2016 and this time, he hasn’t left it for eight years as he has done previously. If Beale Street Could Talk has been adapted from James Baldwin’s novel and tells a story that still burns fiercely today – all centered on racism, though, undercurrents of hope are present to soften the oft-distressing narrative events in this hard-hitting romantic drama.

The plot follows young lovers Tish (Layne) and Fonny (James) as they fight the injustice of Fonny’s wrongful arrest for sexual assault against the backdrop of social issues and family issues on both sides and the impending arrival of their first born child. If Beale Street Could Talk is a wonderfully-paced account of a young family fighting the injustice that many families like them face(d) daily and it’s delivered with that fiery yet restrained touch that Barry Jenkins brings to all of his works. There’s a fury bubbling away beneath the surface, but Jenkins opts to put story and characters first and the movie ultimately benefits from this. Strong performances from KiKi Layne and Stephen Rogers add a real authentic edge to proceedings and Regina King is excellent as Tish’s loving, passionate mother – everyone on board adds something to the movie in one way or another (including minor roles for Diego Luna and Pedro Pascal).

 

Beale Street, despite its tragic story, is a movie with family and love at its heart and the non-linear structure that Jenkins employs to tell the story really helps with the depth required to feel for them and the development needed to understand them also. There’s anger at the injustices and sadness at the separations. Though some of the dialogue is clunky and seemingly lifted right from the text that Beale Street is adapted from, the interactions between the family members are the strongest aspects of the movie – especially during a frantically tense scene where both Tish and Fonny’s families combine to share the news of Tish’s pregnancies. Man, that was one hell of a scene. It’s not all weight and sadness, however. There’s a great scene involving a strange Dave Franco cameo that highlights the love of Tish and Fonny and really works in the context of the story. The silent moments are captured in Jenkins’ near-signature style also, close-ups that demand your attention, utterly displaying the sheer emotion the characters are facing and the way Jenkins allows the humanity to shine through his actors' performances so effortlessly (of course, not really effortlessly, the man has serious talent). Accompanying every scene is a wondrous score from Nicholas Britell that emphasises and carries the tone of every scene it brushes.

 

Smart writing and directing ensure If Beale Street Could Talk remains focused throughout, never slipping too far from its ultimate narrative and never allowing the emotion to overwhelm the movie as a whole. Whilst at times it feels too polished – certainly, as far as dialogue is concerned – it’s packed with powerful moments and powerful performances. Barry Jenkins is back (again) with a bang.

January 23rd 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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