By Jack Dignan
Barry Jenkins’ 2016 Oscar winning Moonlight was a film that stuck with me for a very long time. Longer, perhaps, than any other film released that year. It’s one that grows and improves as the days slip by, one that resonates further and feels like a breath of fresh air with every subsequent viewing. Following it up was going to be tough, and If Beale Street Could Talk had a lot to live up to. Rest assured though, Jenkins has made another masterpiece, and I cannot wait for the world to begin to experience it over the coming months.
His third feature film is an immaculate, sensual and meditative adaptation of James Baldwin’s classic novel of race, love and injustice. He evokes a hyper-real, almost dreamlike experience in the execution of a story about a woman, Tish (Kiki Lane, making her feature film debut), who becomes pregnant at the same time as when her partner, Fonny (Stephan James), is put behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Jenkins adapts this story with all the grace, pain and affection consistently present in his filmography thus far, and it may just be his best work yet.
It’s a calm, self-reflective story that feels like an else-world reflection of society as a whole. While set in the 70s, there’s never a feeling of this being a period piece. Its frequently warm and yellow colour palette is beautiful and the cinematography even more so, elevating this relevant and important narrative beyond its powerful, provocative words and into an experience unlike any other. It’s soulful, gorgeous and seamlessly executed, featuring some of the most impressive sound design of the year, and that’s a high bar to reach.
Kiki Lane is utterly breathtaking in her first full-length movie. Her character demonstrates such an articulate understanding of the way the world works, even from a young age, and Lane brings humanity to every aspect of the role. From just a look, you pick up on her fear, her love, her hopes and her disappointments. Her relationship with Stephan James’ Fonny is authentic and heartbreaking, all the way up until a final shot that’ll shatter your heart, make it whole, and then shatter it again. Jenkins has such a strong passion for the story he’s telling and it resonates in every frame.
But the real MVP is Regina King, who plays Tish’s loving but stern mother. Every monologue is etched in passion and heartbreak, love and despair, and a performance that steals every scene she’s in. King has control over every moment, and she won’t let anything get by untouched. But between that, there’s genuine beauty and affectionate charisma that carries this film all the way to the finish line. Expect big awards coming her way this Oscar season. An early dinner sequence in which the big pregnancy news is revealed is one the most shocking, upsetting yet satisfying moments of film in 2018.
If Beale Street Could Talk is just as emotional and moving as Moonlight, and yet it feels like the work of a much stronger filmmaker, something I didn’t even think was remotely possible. From its opening shot until it’s last, there’s something endlessly beautiful about this work of art, one that’s resonated with me on a deep and subconscious level ever since leaving the theatre. I’ve used the world “love” a lot in this review, but never without necessity. This is a story of love, pain and the power to overcome it. We need more filmmakers like Barry Jenkins.
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like: