Tuesday, December 25, 2018
If Beale Street Could Talk
The film is set in New York City in the '70s. Childhood friends 22-year-old Fonny (Stephan James) and 19-year-old Tish (KiKi Layne) are deeply in love and looking forward to building their young family together. However, their peaceful life is turned up-side-down after Fonny is wrongfully accused of raping a Puerto Rico woman and put in jail. Behind a glass wall during a jail visit, Tish brings the news to Fonny that she is pregnant, and promises him that she will get him out soon.
But how? Besides her very limited income from her job at a department store, she can only rely on her supportive family. Her dad Joseph (Colman Domingo), mom Sharon (Regina King), and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) all come together desperately trying to get Fonny out of jail before the baby is born.
The writer-director Barry Jenkins unfolds his story following two threads. One is the dreamy flow of the love story between the young couple, the other is the cry for Fonny's unjust incarceration due to racial discrimination. If the two threads were less intertwined by flashbacks, the slow-burn film would be more engaging with a steadier pace.
The constant flashbacks not only disrupt the film's rhythm, but also force us to shift our emotional engagement frequently. Just when we become furious about what the protagonists encountered, we are switched to a warm-colored moody setting occupied by two beautiful people as if Wong Kar-wai is sitting in the director's chair for "In the Mood for Love" (花样年华 2000).
However, the film's political message is as loud and clear as the legacy of James Baldwin's activism. It puts social injustice and racism on vivid display. The love story between Fonny and Tish is also probably one of the most poetic and mesmerizing African American couples on screen.
Perhaps that's precisely the point the filmmaker is trying to make by knitting these two threads together to illustrate how social injustice can destroy people's wonderful lives. While that intention might be logical, it works less effectively in the film.