If you can imagine ‘The Hurricane’ combined with ‘Moonlight’ then you will probably like this.
- Screenplay by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) based on the novel by James Baldwin
- Directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
- Starring KiKi Layne (Debut feature), Stephen James (Race, Selma), Regina King (American Crime [TV]), and Colman Domingo (Assassination Nation)
- Budget of $12m
Initial Thoughts 💭
After achieving stunning Oscar winning success with Moonlight, Barry Jenkins returns with his next feature – a true love story, despite being set against the backdrop of racial injustices in a 70s New York City. This is a no thrills film, and with the combination of brilliant acting and a strong musical score, If Beale Street Could Talk is a raw, captivating piece of film making.
The ‘ccc’ review💭
Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by James Baldwin, this is a moving love story of how two childhood friends, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James), fell in love with each other and who can’t wait to get married and spend their lives together. However, their lives are turned upside down when Fonny finds himself falsely accused of rape and is jailed, whilst Tish finds out she pregnant. It is now a race against time to prove his innocence before she gives birth. Tish and her family set out to clear Fonny’s name, but as black man in America in the 70s with an unjust legal system to fight against, his chances are slim.
The film has two timelines interwoven with each other; one of how their young love blossoms and the other of how Tish and her family are doing their upmost to get Fonny freed. This works extremely well with many foreshadowing moments in the pre-jail story that gives the audience greater insight of the emotional anguish that follows in the post-arrested story. The narration guides us as if we were one of the young lovers as we see the story through Tish’s eyes.
However, as much as the flow of the film was so effortless, you could foresee what would happened, so moments in the film felt like they were dragged on and overall the film was maybe thirty minutes too long….but that is not to say those moments weren’t important – Jenkins wanted to ensure his messages were hitting home, but instead of gripping us for the whole film, we were dazzled by its brilliance for 70% of it.
There were so many different elements of the film that could be appreciated. The scene of when the two families are together when the pregnancy is announced feels like a real throwback when the acting took center stage with great dialogue and real emotion poured in. Or the backdrop of New York City when the diversity is shown through the restaurants, the people, the dancing the soul. The setting of the story was so apt.
As with Moonlight, there is a simple and consistent musical theme throughout which enhances the film’s balance between passion, love and sadness. Again, Nicholas Britell is favoured by Jenkins, and even the original songs used literally hit the right notes at the right moments in the film.
The film main cast are brilliant. KiKi Layne as the innocent girl who finds more and more strength as the film progresses whilst Stephen James turn from confidence young man to being slowly broken down as his time in jail wore on. The parents (Regina King and Colman Domingo) are also great support. But it was also the cameo appearances, despite less screen time, Jenkins managed to make all of their roles significant in one way or another.
Final Thoughts 💭
Given the overriding theme of racial justices, it was much more subtle than the hard hitting The Hate U Give. Even with this side of the story, to us it still felt like a love story and a brilliant one at that. However, this film will probably be given less airtime than those films with bigger budgets and possibly overlooked, and being a tad too long may not be enthralled all audiences. But if you want to enjoy another great piece of film art by Barry Jenkins then you must see this film.
Definitely watch if you want to see a great adapted screenplay.