Barry Jenkins returns after his highly successful and critically applauded Moonlight. Moonlight was a wonderful look into the life of an African American in America dealing with issues of drug addiction and homosexuality. It was a raw and intimate view into the social issues within a poor black neighbourhood. If Beale Street Could Talk facilitates similar themes but focuses on the injustices of the young black youth and love.
If Beale Street Could Talk is about two friends, Tish and Fonny, who have known each other their whole lives. They strike a romance and struggle to find a place in New York. Fonny gets arrested for rape, of which he did not commit. Tish, her family and Fonny’s family must work together to try and clear Fonny’s name. To make matters more complicated, Tish finds out she is pregnant and Fonny is the father.
The best thing I find about Jenkins’ work is the intimacy he is able to portray in such fragile positions. Beale Street and Moonlight both have depictions of racial prejudice but above that is the yearning for love and acceptance. The chemistry between Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan Harris) feels pure. The two act so coy together and so drunk in love that you want to be incredulous of the fact that they live in a time that young black women were not safe to walk to the shops and they lived in damp squalor. When Foony and Tish are by themselves looking at each other, the camera and the pace slows down, an visual appreciation of those silent moments spent in a relationships. The camera focuses on their love and adoration for each other.
The central theme of the film is the injustice of black youth. Fonny has been arrested for a crime he did not do and the odds of him being judged as innocent are slim. This is not a unique case as at the beginning of the film it mentions that Beale Street is any street in America. The representation of racial prejudice is something that is used in film quite frequently but the difference with Jenkins writing and direction is the focus on character. We get moments where the camera just spends a little longer with the character then it should. The audience gets to know every little desire, thought and idea about Fonny and Tish.
Regina King has the stand out performance in this film. King plays Tish’s mother. She stands by her daughter, even though she got pregnant out of wedlock and tries everything to clear Fonny’s name. King’s performance is raw and heartfelt. Being a strong mother for Tish, who is young and at times frail, King’s performance is key in holding the connection between the screen and the audience. There is one scene where she has a breakdown and I found it hard to hold back the tears in the cinema.
Barry Jenkins is becoming one of my favourite directors due to his intimate and raw style of directing. He has this brilliant skill of holding a microscope to racial and social issues within America and creates something so pure and unique. If Beale Street Could Talk is another magnificent notch in Jenkins’ belt. A sweet but harrowing tale about two people in love and fighting against the heavily flawed justice system. The strength of the family not stop fighting even though they know the futility of it is difficult to watch but also inspirational.
Beale Street has an intimate and subtle style that focuses on the love between two people that even in the most awful conditions, people can enjoy the simplicity of life and still have hope. If Beale Street Could Talk is expressionistic, visually impressive and a brilliant look into enjoying love, hope and life even when you are combating prejudice, injustice and persecution.
Rating – ★ ★ ★ ★
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