If Beale Street Could Talk


A woman in Harlem embraces her pregnancy while she and her family struggle to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime.

Barry Jenkins follow up to the Oscar winning ‘Moonlight’ is a stirring adaptation of James Baldwin’s celebrated novel, ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’. It’s an unashamedly romantic movie about two young lovers torn apart by a miscarriage of justice, and I found myself deeply moved by it. Tish (Kiki Layne) is a young African-American woman who falls in love with a boy she’s been friends with her entire life in Fonny (Stephan James), when their budding relationship is challenged as Fonny is wrongly accused of a crime and sent to jail. With her family’s support, led by a terrific Regina King, Tish sets out to prove his innocence before their young child is born.

The film is presented in a non-linear structure as we are introduced to Tish and Fonny, moving between the different stages of their relationship, both before and after Fonny’s incarceration. This approach creates an ethereal atmosphere, enhanced by the intimate and sweeping camerawork that draws us right into the key moments in Tish and Fonny’s life, crafting each sequence like a little capsule in time. In both structure and tone, ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ reminded me of ‘Blue Valentine’, although this film is altogether more hopeful despite the bleak nature of the premise. Both of these films use a fluid narrative to enhance the impact of individual moments, mimicking the nature of memory and how seemingly fleeting moments in our lives can hold such power, and ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ does this beautifully. Nicholas Britell (who also scored ‘Moonlight’) produces a soaring score to amplify the events happening on screen and the moving performances from Stephan James and newcomer Kiki Layne really draw you into the story of their love.

This is another fine movie from Barry Jenkins to follow ‘Moonlight’, continuing to develop an expressionistic style to bring these characters and their story to live. Baldwin’s source material is adapted strongly for the screen and the performances from the lead duo are electrifying, and ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is an impressive and poignant piece of filmmaking.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Stephan James, Kiki Layne, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry, Finn Wittrock, Ed Skrein, Emily Rios, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal and Dave Franco


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