The Hippo


Jun 24, 2019








If Beale Street Could Talk (R)

If Beale Street Could Talk (R)
Film Reviews by Amy


 False imprisonment separates a young couple in If Beale Street Could Talk, the latest movie from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins.

Set in 1970s Harlem, this is the story of 19-year-old Tish (KiKi Layne), deeply in love with early-20something Fonny (Stephan James). Though young, Tish is certain she wants a life with Fonny and, later, just as certain she wants to have his baby, even though, when she learns of her pregnancy, Fonny is in jail.
Weaving backward and forward in time, we see their romance: Tish and Fonny becoming a couple and searching for an apartment. At the same time, we see their present reality: Fonny in jail awaiting trial, charged with rape. The woman ID’ed Fonny, we're told, and a police officer saw him running from the scene. Except, at the time of the attack, Fonny was in his apartment hanging out with his friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) while Tish prepared dinner. Eventually, we see what might have led the police officer (Ed Skrein) to identify Fonny as the culprit. 
Through all of this, Tish is tenderly supported by her family: her unwavering father (Colman Domingo), her fierce sister (Teyonah Parris) and her rock of a mother, Sharon (Regina King). 
If Beale Street Could Talk is a sunny warm glow of a love story — all the more impressive because of how bleak the bare facts of it are. Before the arrest, Tish and Fonny can't find a landlord willing to rent to an African-American couple. Afterward, Tish faces parenting without a partner and Fonny faces a system where, as his family learns, real justice seems impossible. Institutional racism is the constant enemy that they face, but Tish's and Fonny's love (and Tish's family's love for her) beats back the grimness and leaves us with a story that is somehow optimistic — realistic about the world they live in but tonally optimistic nonetheless.
This is such an achievement, to pull off all of this without simplifying complexity or seeming Pollyanna-ish. The movie also manages the feat of highlighting the language without feeling stagy or like characters are reading from the source book. 
Beale Street is also a collection of magnificent performances. Many of the best scenes in this movie  involve King's Sharon. King (who won a Golden Globe for this performance) embodies this movie's tone, the sense of optimism in the face of unrelenting difficulty, in a way that feels absolutely genuine, whether she is politely but firmly talking to Fonny's snooty mother (Aunjanue Ellis) or pleading with Fonny's accuser, Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios) to think back on the horrors of her attack try to remember if the man who attacked her really was Fonny or if she just agreed with the police’s identification of him to put the assault behind her.
Victoria Rogers is another example of the movie's precision and thoughtfulness. That character could have gone wrong so easily; any attempt at making her feel like a villain would have been an off note. While we don't get her whole story, the movie respects the part of the story we're given and she is presented as a layered person making decisions for understandable human reasons.
Layne and James make their characters' love seem so heartbreakingly sweet and yet real and deep. They impressively pull off the blend of despair and romance in a way that doesn't cheapen or lessen either emotion. A
Rated R for language and some sexual content, according to the MPAA. Directed by Barry Jenkins who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk is an hour and 59 minutes long and distributed by Annapurna Pictures. 

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