Review: If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)

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Our latest jaunt to the cinema was for another mystery screening, the selected movie this time was If Beale Street Could Talk, the Oscar nominated film from director Barry Jenkins.

I’ll be honest, going in I did not really have any idea what this film was about but I had heard a lot of talk about Regina King’s performance and how the film deserved a Best Picture Oscar nod, so my expectations were high.

Regina King as Tish’s mum Sharon

The film follows the struggles of the young woman Tish (Kiki Layne) as she attempts to prove her fiancé’s innocence and free him from jail, all whilst carrying their first child. The film is a celebration of love, family and community that sensitively addresses many of the problems faced by the black community.

One intriguing aspect was the film’s use of dialogue, or lack of it. There was very little ‘filler’ in this film, everything that was said seemed had a purpose, a meaning, a direction. Given the themes the Beale Street addresses, this was a powerful technique to adopt as it ensured that when the characters did speak, the audience listened.

The use of dialogue had the added benefit of really drawing out some strong performances from the cast. The strength of relationships and depth of feeling were not told to us but shown. That being said, I thought the acting was good but not outstanding and I’m not sure that I agree with Regina King’s Best Actress Oscar nomination.

I was also strangely riveted by Jenkin’s use of colour, especially in the costuming. There was a repeated use of yellow and green for both Tish (Layne) and Sharon (King) that was aesthetically pleasing but I am not smart enough to know whether this supposed to convey a particular message. Perhaps one of my readers could help me out with that one.

Whilst the performances of the cast were captivating and the story was strong, there were too many factors, for me, that didn’t quite sit right and left me walking out of the theatre feeling a little disappointed. In fact, I am going to have to go against the grain here and admit that Beale Street is probably my least favourite film of the year so far.

There was one particular scene involving Alfonso or Fonny’s (Stephan James) family that was emotional, entertaining and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny but this was the exception and not the norm. Unfortunately, the pacing of the rest of the film was so slow that it was distracting and I got the impression that the director was trying too hard to be ‘arty’. That being said, I have not seen Moonlight or any of Jenkin’s other work, so it may just be a case that I am unfamiliar and uneducated in his directorial style.

I admit that it would have probably messed with the aesthetic appeal of the film but I wanted to see more of, what I consider (rightly or wrongly) to be the more ‘entertaining’ characters and the interactions between them, in particular the two fathers, Joseph (Colman Domingo) and Frank (Michael Beach).

The final irritation, for me, was that there were too many inconsistencies and unanswered questions, scenes that did not fit within the main narrative of the film and throwaway comments that were never expanded upon.

All that being said, I would probably still recommend this film, purely for Jenkin’s delicate handling some highly sensitive yet topical issues including racial inequality, social injustice and sexual harassment.

Tish and Fonny’s relationship provides the focal point of the whole film.
©2018 Annapurna Releasing, LLC

As always, don’t take my word for it, go buy a ticket and see this film for yourself. Loved ones are optional, popcorn is not.

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