If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

If Beale Street Could Talk
Director: Barry Jenkins
Writer: Barry Jenkins
Based on: James Baldwin‘s novel
Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Ethan Barrett, Milanni Mines, Ebony Obsidian, Dominique Thorne, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Emily Rios, Ed Skrein, Finn Wittrock, Brian Tyree Henry, Dave Franco, Pedro Pascal
Seen on: 14.3.2019

Content Note: rape, (critical treatment of) racism

Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) are young and very in love. But then Fonny gets arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and Tish discovers that she is pregnant. Her joy at expecting a baby from the man she loves pushes her even more to prove his innocence. Fortunately she has her family to support her.

If Beale Street Could Talk may not quite achieve the heights of Moonlight, but it is a beautiful, well-acted film that is, unfortunately, way too timely still. It’s definitely a film to be seen.

The film poster showing Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) leaning their foreheads against each other. Superimposed in their shapes we can also see them walking down a New York street, huddled under a red umbrella.

This 45-year-old story might as well be set today and that is such a frustrating fact that it made me want to scream (and I am white, I shudder to think what that knowledge does to Black people). But even if racism was a thing of the past (one wishes), the story would still be affecting and touching, sad and beautiful, infurating and brutal.

To make it short, it’s a strong story. I have started reading Baldwin’s novel, but I wasn’t fast enough to finish it before seeing the film. But the film was very close to the parts I already read, so I assume that the rest is close to the novel as well.

Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) cuddled together on the subway.

In any case, the cast is simply fantastic here with strong performances all around. Layne and James create a wonderful sense of intimacy that makes their love utterly believable, but I was particularly blown away by Teyonah Parris as Tish’s sister Ernestine. She immediately stole my heart and I still get goosebumps thinking about her performance.

That the film still didn’t touch me quite as much as Moonlight was mostly due to the fact that it got rather lengthy in the second half and returned too often to the (same moments in the) past for my taste. But this is almost entirely made up for by the perfect cinematography and the beautiful music. And it certainly doesn’t mean that the film isn’t worth seeing. It is, and you should.

Fonny (Stephan James) talking on a prison visitor phone.

Summarizing: Beautiful.

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