If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk may very well be the only film of 2018 that can be called “beautiful.”
In the Moonlight writer/director’s adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel, the elusive quality extends to practically every aspect of the production — an extraordinary feat considering that the tale of young lovers Tish (newcomer KiKi Layne) and Fonnie (Stephan James, Selma) goes to some dark, tragic places.
Set against a convincing early ‘70s Harlem backdrop, Fonnie’s wrongful imprisonment, Tish’s pregnancy, and their families’ various responses to the predicament inspire one moving moment after another from the committed ensemble.
These emotions are elevated to the stratosphere when accompanied by Nicholas Britell’s gorgeous score, though music-free, dialogue-centered scenes like the couple’s soul-shattering visit from Fonnie’s recently-paroled friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry, Widows) are impactful on a different yet complementary level.
Further enriching the film is one of the most carefully handled bedroom scenes in modern cinema and a desperate detour to Puerto Rico where Tish’s mother Sharon (Regina King) makes a last-ditch effort to clear Fonnie’s good name — a suspenseful stretch that’s nearly as breathlessly taut as the moon landing from First Man.
Though If Beale Street Could Talk occasionally suffers from comparable pacing issues that plagued Moonlight, in every other conceivable way the film marks a step forward for Jenkins, packing a more engaging conflict, more fully realized performances, and noticeably improved filmmaking.
As such, it joins Blindspotting, BlacKkKlansman, and Sorry To Bother You in the upper echelon of the past year’s films that intelligently and artfully reflect the African-American experience, and seems poised to age gracefully.
Grade: A-minus. Rated R. Starts Jan. 11 at the Fine Arts Theatre
(Photo: Annapurna Pictures)