An adaptation of the book of the same name, written by James Baldwin, the film follows the relationship of two black lovers on Beale Street, NY. It is when the boyfriend gets sent to jail, the girlfriend, along with her family, tries everything to break him out and prove his innocence before their baby is due.
Barry Jenkins, director of “Moonlight,” continues his success with this film. While I prefer that movie more, “Beale Street” is still a great movie that showcases Jenkins film-making talents.
The movie is told in a non-linear format, in which it would cut to the present day and then in the past. It is also narrated by the girlfriend throughout. For the most part, I think the film did a very nice job of handling the two story-lines at once. Each of them complimented each other well. It gave good context to the relationship between Tish and Fonny (Kiki Layne and Stephan James), the other characters, and the world around them.
Everyone in the movie did a really good job in their roles. The Tish and Fonny scenes were great at making one believe their love and passion for one another. The girlfriends family was really good at caring for her. They will do everything in their power to make her feel happy and see justice come through until the end. One sees the father selling clothing to gain extra cash, while the mother is going to Puerto Rico to confront the rape victim. There is Fonny’s friend, Daniel, played by Brian Tyree Henry, who does great in one scene in particular. It is during a scene when he and Fonny are simply talking. It’s during this scene that we learn of his past struggles in life as a black man. The camera is really good at staying close on him to get one feeling sorry for any wrong he has done in the past.
Speaking of the camera, the cinematography in the movie was very nicely done. The opening scene really illustrates two main things, long takes, and close-ups. Long takes were used to establish the setting and environment of the many locations on Beale Street. Each location was unique and it didn’t look the same all around. The close-ups were used quite a bit to make one feel as if they are right there looking at the people in the film. The close-ups are really close-ups. A good example is when Tish is talking to Fonny on the other side of the glass in prison. The film switches from both of their perspectives as they talk directly in front of the camera. Once again, this technique was used to better establish an emotional connection with characters.
Which this film does well at also. The “past” scenes offer a nice development of the couple before the inevitable rape case. The performances help build that emotional attachment and one wants to see these two have a happy end. But this movie does a bold choice of not having one, in some sense. What the film does is to let the audience know that no matter what happens with the two, their love will always be there and will not be broken, no matter the consequences that come into play. One feels for the relationship for the two and it was happy, once again, to see Tish’s family be really supportive for her.
Now I mentioned that the two story-lines did a good job at showing at different points in time. I only wish that the “past” plotline could have more to it. While I felt the connection the couple had, the fight for getting the boyfriend free could have used more scenes. I thought there could have been more with Tish’s father who I honestly have forgotten about until he came back during the second act in that bar setting. Fonny’s friend, Daniel, is used as a chance to save Fonny, but the movie doesn’t elaborate anymore on him not helping. The last he is mentioned is that he is talked to by lawyers about the rape incident and there isn’t a follow up to this at all.
A lot of cinematography was very nice at displaying scenes for an adequate amount of time, but at points, the camera can linger on a scene for a little too long. I understand that the film is trying to get the emotions out there, but it doesn’t need to extend a scene to do so. Tish and Fonny have sex for the first time dragged. The 360 degree shot of Fonny working on his carpenter skills made no sense to me. The mother looking at herself in the mirror once she reaches Puerto Rico dragged as well. There are times where the film acts as a documentary and depicts real-life photos of black people struggling during the time setting of the movie. It was an interesting choice and it ties into the narrative style of the film, which reminded me of someone reading straight from the book the movie is based on. I like the narration, but the documentary-type scenes felt a bit out of place and it reminded me of the film “Vice.” Granted it’s not that disjointed and jarring, as it is only like that in a couple portions.
The music in the movie was fine, but I felt it can be a little melodramatic at times. There wasn’t any piece that stood out except maybe the one in the end credits.
“If Beale Street Could Talk,” has a few flaws in it, but it is still a very well-executed and great romantic drama that one should definitely check out. Once again, Barry Jenkins talents are still shining and I’m curious about what project he’ll bring forth in the future.