Movie Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

So much to like in this adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel: superb performances, hauntingly beautiful music, and extraordinary cinematography.

The young lovers, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), are filled with hope and optimism as they dream of a future together. The opening scene where they stroll by the river captures the tenderness and authenticity of that love. Unfortunately, their plans are derailed when a racist policemen with a grudge falsely accuses Fonny of raping a woman who has fled the country.

Using a non-linear timeline, writer-director Barry Jenkins succeeds in capturing the emotional intensity of the storyline set in early-1970s Harlem. The well-crafted scenes follow a seamless order, one determined by the thoughts and feelings of naive, nineteen-year-old Tish, the narrator of the film, as she awaits Fonny’s trial and the birth of their child.

One of the most powerful scenes involves a meeting between the two families. After hearing the news of the upcoming pregnancy, Fonny’s Bible-thumping mother and judgmental sister lash out at Tish. Horrified, Tish’s mother (expertly played by Regina King) defends her daughter as she calls out the hypocrisy of the women.

It is not surprising that King has already received a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. She dominates all her scenes, displaying the intensity of a mother’s love for her child and grandchild. When she travels to Puerto Rico to confront Fonny’s accuser, she digs deep and uses all the inner resources she possesses.

I particularly enjoyed the extended long takes: Tish and Fonny talking through a thick pane of glass at the prison, cigarette smoke forming a sculpture as Fonny carves his own work, Tisha and Fonny exchanging soulful glances in close-ups.

A timeless romance, but also a family drama and social commentary of the period.

A must-see film!


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