If Beale Street Could Talk Review: A moving and relevant new story from Barry Jenkins
There’s no one really making a deeper impact in the film industry more than Barry Jenkins. He captured the world’s attention with his breakout film Moonlight back in 2016, but now looks to continue his success with his new film, based on the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk. However, could his film back up all the hype it’s been getting and Golden Globe Nominations it’s been given? The answer: absolutely.
The film follows a young black couple, Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), as the both survive through 1970s Harlem. With discrimination and racial profiling already being major issues in their area, Fonny is then arrested for a crime no one feels he committed. Things are only made harder once Tish finds out that she’s having Fonny’s baby and now her and her family must try to prove his innocence. Their journey is filled with love, determination, and a glimpse through the eyes of black men and women in 1970s Harlem.
Jenkins is absolutely astounding at making viewers feel every emotion and understanding their values at their core. His use of having his character’s faces be alone in the shots is amazing and it captures the thoughts and feelings of characters so effectively without having to say any words. His direction through each scene can be felt so swiftly with all of his camera movements and I would definitely have to say that his writing is top-notch.
Each line of dialogue feels sharp and to the point and Jenkins does a great job going back and forth between serious and funny. This is best shown in the discussion between Fonny and his friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) about Daniel’s time in prison and how it affected. Daniel’s monologue of his views of prison are truly horrifying, realistic, and leaves a deep impact thanks to Henry’s stellar performance and it doesn’t lose any impact once Tisha cuts in and the dire moods turns happy again. There are moments like this littered throughout the film and it plays nicely in both understanding each of the character’s personalities and keeping audiences engaged.
While pretty much every performance is near perfection in If Beale Street Could Talk, the film’s lead performances from James and Layne are the absolute standouts. Layne puts in some award-worthy work, especially considering this is her first time as a lead in a feature, as she brings Tisha’s unrelenting love towards Fonny and her now saddened view of the world to the forefront of If Beale Street Could Talk. James also showcases his talents and brings Fonny’s more humorous and light-hearted personality to the film. There are plenty of moments with him trying to make Tisha feel better, like picking up fake furniture to make her feel better about moving into a new apartment and constantly telling her that things will be okay, that will make anyone fall in love with their relationship.
There’s also something that’s worth pointing out as it was mentioned in a Live Q & A I attended as a part of my screening. Throughout the film, there are these characters that Jenkins referred to as satellite characters, which are made up of some pretty well-known faces. I won’t say exactly who they are, but their purpose is to bring audiences into a scene with just the recognition of their face. They are used perfectly by Jenkins for this purpose and thankfully never steal the scenes they are a part of from the film’s leads.
It’s also worth noting that Jenkin’s actually uses the landscape of Harlem to not only have the film be authentic, but also to shed some light on areas issues. With people tending to only make money through selling valuables on the side and plenty of scenes that show how black people are often viewed in that area, If Beale Street Could Talk gives a great look towards what living in Harlem can be like for the Black community. Not to mention, the excellent score created by Nicholas Britell brings a sense of whimsical emotion through each seen it’s in.
It’s frankly no wonder why Jenkins, the whole cast and crew, and If Beale Street Could Talk is getting so much buzz: it’s because it’s so damn good. There’s so much emotion poured into every aspect of this story that fans of the novel will surely love to see on the big screen. Jenkins is truly at it again bringing moviegoers such powerfully emotional films to see and thankfully, he doesn’t seem to want to stop any time soon.