The Photograph Review: Rae and Stanfield boast irresistible chemistry in original love story
The latest film from writer/director Stella Meighe, The Photograph, is genuinely romantic experience about reconciling and love that boasts two strong performances from Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield.
The film follows Mae (Rae), a young museum curator who is dealing with the passing of her estranged mother (Chante Adams), a famous photographer, and is left feeling angry and full of questions. All she has is a letter and photograph from her mother and she’s still left confused as to who she really was. While she’s setting up an event to show her work, a reporter named Michael Block (Stanfield) is also doing a report on Mae’s mother and the two have a great connection. However, Mae worries that she’ll struggle with love in same ways that her mother did and as she learns about her mother’s relationships, she attempts to maintain her relationship with Michael as new complications come into their lives.
One of the things that initially interested me about The Photograph is that it’s an original story from Meighe and not based off any best-selling romance novel. There’s always something that feels over-dramatic about romance films that are adapted from a novel and the realism about the central relationship always feel lost within these moments. However, that rarely happens with The Photograph and it’s impressive to see Mae and Michael’s relationship feel so genuine in both the dialogue and their personalities. From the way they talk about Drake and Kendrick Lamar to how they want to deal with being forced into a long-distance relationship, their relationship comes off more realistically and it makes it much easier to connect to. It’s not focused on having them have these explosive arguments to have something interesting happen on-screen or overly dramatic montages of their relationship. Not to mention, Rae and Stanfield’s performances really make it hard not to gravitate towards everything that’s happening on-screen.
While Rae is mostly known for her comedic work, it’s nice to see her take on a dramatic role like this and she really thrives in bringing out Mae’s issues. Rae showcases Mae’s struggles to be vulnerable and worrying that she’ll lose out on love like her mother perfectly and even in times where she quieter, her face expresses all the emotions she’s feeling. It’s a strong performance that perfectly matches Stanfield – who continues to show his wide range. It’s kind of nice to Stanfield, who’s usually more calm, cool, and collected on-screen, be a little more romantically vulnerable and even nervous at times. It’s a big part in what makes his feelings for Mae very real and he’s makes Michael a genuinely likeable person. Together, the two are incredible and, as said before, there’s something underlyingly deep about they talk about their relationship that’s very different. The scene of them talking about what’s going to happen with their relationship when complications come into play has really nice maturity and genuine care that stems from both of their great performances and strong chemistry.
Rae and Stanfield aren’t the only two who shine though as there’re plenty of strong supporting performances. Lil Rel Howery is a perfect comedic relief as Michael’s brother Kyle and Chelsea Peretti has some great lines as Michael’s slightly cynical boss Sara. As Mae deciphers her mother’s, Christina, letter, the film shifts between the past and the present to show a strong relationship Cristina has when she was younger with Isaac (Y’lan Noel/Rob Morgan) and flesh out her desire’s for personal success. Adams puts in a very strong performance that shares the same struggle for vulnerability as Mae and you can really feel her internal desires for something more in her life and how it affects her relationship with Isaac. Adams and Noel also share a strong chemistry that’s hard not to like and do a great job bringing out each of their respective character’s opposite desires. Even though their part takes place in the 80s, it’s incredibly modern with it how it fleshes out Adams’ aspirations and self-interests and her unrelenting desire for independence is actually very relatable.
The only real flaw with The Photograph’s story is that there’re time where the constant flipping back and forth between Mae and Christina’s story seems like it’s leaving some things out. Certain conversations have details in them that weren’t mentioned in prior scenes so it’s almost like characters are having conversations with one another behind the scenes. For instance, there’s a moment where Michael recalls a detail about Christina’s house having a dark room when him and Mae go to visit it, even though I couldn’t recall her ever talking about that with him. Moments like this can make it seem like certain parts have been cut out and make you not feel fully connected to their relationship. Although these kinds of moments were likely cut because they seem like incidental details, they could’ve been used to flesh out their relationship more and have viewers connect even deeper to Mae and Michael – possibly even make the relationships with supporting characters stronger as well.
The technical aspects of The Photograph set it apart even more with the film looking great and the score sounding even better. The settings of both New York City and New Orleans are very appealing to see between the two love stories and the different living conditions allows for the environment to play a good role in the story. The score from Robert Glasper was a huge highlight for me as his jazzy score brings a great energy to the film and is just a relaxing score to listen to. It’s the kind of music that’s perfectly fitting in both New Orleans and any New York City jazz club and it creates strong emotion throughout the film.
The Photograph is really a strong showing for everyone involved and if you’re a fan of Rae and Stanfield – you’ll only come away loving them more. If you’re looking an original romance story filled with great storytelling, a mature and genuine heart, and incredible performances that you can really connect to, then The Photograph is a post-Valentine’s Day must-see.