If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
Director: Barry Jenkins | Runtime: 1h 59mins | Drama, Romance
A young couple living in Harlem are set to have a baby when Alfonso (Stephan James) is wrongly accused of rape. Tish (Kiki Layne) works tirelessly to prove his innocence, all while dealing with her pregnancy with the help of her family.
It’s now coming up to two years since Barry Jenkins Moonlight (2016) won the Best Picture award in controversial fashion, and since that day Barry Jenkins hasn’t looked back. Eagerly awaiting his next feature, Barry Jenkins proves again just how talented he is as a filmmaker with If Beale Street Could Talk.
Set on the backdrop of Harlem, New York, Barry Jenkins sets the scene for both story and theme early on in the first few minutes. We see the young couple holding hands as Tish’s soft narration explains the meaning of what Beale Street really is, showing what becomes the real backbone of the film as a representation of black families, and communities, all over America. Jenkins’ subtlety knows no bounds, but when this film is at it’s best is when it chooses explosive emotion over the gentle approach. As Tish makes the announcement to Alfonso’s, or ‘Fonny’s’, family about the pregnancy, the entire room erupts into anger. In this one scene If Beale Street Could Talk’s thematic agenda is on the surface, something that is continued time and time again throughout.
With scene after scene letting you live in the moment with the characters, it’s important for the performances to feel authentic. Jenkins uses a relatively unknown cast, although more than likely you recognise Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry and of course the always wonderful Regina King, but the cast is on point consistently. So much of the films emotional levity comes from the performances given and in a film so driven by it’s directors ability it’s so important to see the film not just as a one trick pony, but as a consistent piece of art that’s quality stems from different aspects of it’s cast, direction and definitely writing.
Although it may not have quite the raw emotionality of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins’ latest film has a slicker approach, and is never short on impact. It reads as a romance but this is a film about, and for, a community of people who have seen so much struggle and should be watched by everyone, no matter who you are.