Movie Review – If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight is a technical and emotional marvel.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½

Rhys Pascoe

Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James) are two young lovers thrust apart by forces beyond their control. Fonny, a young tradesman and artist, has been wrongfully accused of rape and thrown in jail by a corrupt justice system skewed towards prosecuting young African-Americas. Tish – only 19, living alone and trying to raise the money they need to pay Fonny’s legal bills – is expecting their first child. If things seem dire, that’s because they are, but cutting through the quagmire is a power that can’t be quashed or repressed.

If you guessed ‘love’, you’d be right. Much like his previous film Moonlight, director Barry Jenkins’ adaption of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk is all about love. Only this time, it’s an abundance of love rather than an absence of it.

From the spark of youthful passion to an unwavering familial love, If Beale Street Could Talk has a lot to say on the topic. How love makes us strong, sweet, stupid or sad. How misguided or misplaced love can tear us apart. And how love can cut through all obstacles and remain powerful in the presence of abject despair.

This film is achingly beautiful, like a Renaissance oil painting, with each shot painstakingly composed and framed by Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton. The streets of New York are dripping with honeyed yellows and earnest oranges, almost as if Tish and Fonny emit a warm, smitten glow wherever they walk. Told in a non-linear fashion, the palette shifts to colder and harder colours when the film swaps back to the ‘present’. Nicholas Britell’s string-heavy score is both an ode to lovers and a mournful lament of the injustice that wrenched them apart – it’s brilliant.

A host of powerful supporting performances populate Beale Street; Regina King, frontrunner for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, showcases the lengths a mother would go for her daughter. Brian Tyree Henry cameos, but makes a big impression, while brief but memorable appearances from Diego Luna, Dave Franco and Ed Skrein lend weight to the adage ‘there are no small parts’.

Though Jenkins’ film possesses a powerful undercurrent of commentary on black history, as well as the prejudice and harassment still faced in the present, this never overpowers the core theme of the story. Even when a pane of glass or a prison visiting room table separates our two protagonists, their love and tenderness for one another is palpable, radiating from the screen like a warm breeze. For that reason alone, you won’t find a better Valentine’s Day film this February.

If Beale Street Could Talk is available in Australian cinemas from February 14 

Image courtesy of eOne Films

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