American filmmaker Barry Jenkins made waves in the industry with his Oscar Winning Moonlight, and many have been waiting to see how he would follow up after such a powerful and critically acclaimed film. I can tell you assuredly that he comes back swinging just as hard, probably even harder.
If Beale Street Could Talk is an adaptation of the 1974 James Baldwin novel of the same name, and it does the book extreme justice. The story carries a portrait of injustice with an extremely timely and important subtext of racial and social divisions. It follows Tish, a 19 year old girl, and Fonny, a 22 year old sculptor, who are played by KiKi Layne and Stephan James, respectively. The two learn that they are going to have a child, but Fonny is falsely accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman, bringing him to be jailed before trial. Beale Street beautifully communicates the emotional vigor of Baldwin’s novel into a cinematic medium that carries no less of its poetic nature.
Beale Street boasts admirable performances from its entire cast, notably from leads Layne and James. Layne, in her first feature film performance embodies Tish’s sweet and worried nature, making her easy to empathize with as a character. One of my favorite performances from this film is Regina King as Sharon Rivers (Tish’s mother). King gives life to a headstrong and loving mother that will do most anything for her family and compassionately comprehends the struggles of others. Beale Street is a pristine example of how actors should personify the qualities of their characters.
Another captivating part of this movie is its gorgeous visuals. Cinematographer James Laxton, who has worked with Jenkins on numerous projects including Moonlight, utilizes close ups to bring us right in front of or right beside a character during bits of dialogue, which translates such intimacy to the audience and invests us in what the characters have to say. This pairs with the beautiful dialogue from Jenkins, who penned the screenplay and the brilliant performances that give scenes such a high degree of reality. The smooth movements of the camera also work well with the style of the film, which exhibits crisp, vibrant colors that appear all over from the clothes of the actors to the paints of the buildings in Harlem. The bright blues, yellows, and reds radiate motion and visual buoyancy. An expert control over colors and lighting makes Beale Street exceptionally aesthetic and hard to look away from.
Besides the enticement in a visual sense, viewers will find it hard to shift attention from the film due to its excellent pacing. Never leaving one overwhelmed or perplexed at the plot, scenes from the climax intertwine slickly with scenes from before it that keeps the film away from simple, linear storytelling and brings everything full circle at the film’s conclusion. This helps it to constantly captivate the attention of the audience, making them devoted to both the characters and their struggles in an unfair yet beautiful world.
Verdict: 5 out of 5
Beale Street has easily become one of my favorite films of 2018 and will be a very likely contender in the coming awards season. It presents a timeless tale of love amidst the tribulations of life and inequality that resonates now as much as it did during the time of Baldwin’s classic novel. This film will make you feel pained, bring you to laughter, and invoke intense compassion towards the couple and their timely strife caused by simply being Black in America.