The Reel Review

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If Beale Street Could Talk is the long-awaited follow up from director Barry Jenkins, following his Best Picture Oscar for 2016’s Moonlight. Adapted from the 1974 novel by James Baldwin, it is a story of racial injustice in 1970s Harlem. Tish, a pregnant 19-year-old, prepares for motherhood as she and her family fight to prove the innocence of her boyfriend Fonny, imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

It is clear that Jenkins wants to set a lush, deeply romantic mood throughout the film – he fills it with LOTS of slow camera movements and montages set to a beautiful, evocative score by Nicholas Brittell (Moonlight, The Big Short). Carefully positioned flashbacks maximize the drama and emotionally invest moviegoers in the two, deeply-in-love main characters, convincingly portrayed by relative newcomers Kiki Layne and Stephan James (Homecoming). However, it is also a compelling story about the lengths a loving family will go for one another. The pacing is slow at times, like watching a painter work, and the odd choice of comic actor Dave Franco as a Jewish landlord is a distracting bit of stunt casting, and there are some plot holes about the crime aspect of the story left unfilled (presumably at the expense of all the beautiful camera work), but overall, Jenkins does great justice to Baldwin’s novel about racial injustice.

REEL FACTS

• Jenkins wrote the screenplay for If Beale Street Could Talk while in Europe in the summer of 2013, during the same trip that he wrote Moonlight

• Actress KiKi Layne’s big screen debut was the 2015 short film Veracity. She will appear in two more films in 2019, Native Son (based on Richard Wright’s 1940 novel about an impoverished black youth in Chicago’s South Side) and the sci-fi thriller Captive State, starring John Goodman and Vera Farmiga.

• Canadian Stephan James was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor – TV Drama for his role as Walter Cruz in HBO’s Homecoming

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