Tuesday, December 25, 2018


If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk official site After "Moonlight" (USA 2016) won the Academy Award for Best Picture, it's understandable for us to have high expectations for its writer-director Barry Jenkins's next work "If Beale Street Could Talk" (USA 2018 | 117 min.). It's adapted from the novel of the same title by James Baldwin. Although his new film is not as lyrical and potent as his previous Oscar winner, Barry Jenkins nevertheless tells a love story that is devastated by social and racial injustice.

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.

If Beale Street Could Talk Official Site

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.

"If Beale Street Could Talk" opens on Tuesday, December 25, 2018 in San Francisco Bay Area.

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