If Beale Street Could Talk - review
by Lily Ekimian
One walks out of If Beale Street Could Talk with an overwhelming sense of love: romantic love, familial love, communal love. But perhaps most importantly, one feels that the film has been made with love and for the sake of love. This is admirable on the part of writer/director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) because of the time and place the film depicts, as well as its subject matter. Based on the novel by James Baldwin, the film follows the young African American couple of Tish and Fonny in New York City of the 1970s; Fonny is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and Tish is pregnant with his child. While these circumstances represent the film’s present, much is spent in flashbacks. Fonny and Tish were childhood friends and now, Tish in her late-teens and Fonny in his twenties, are steadily dating and looking for an apartment together.
The film has a dream-like quality, from its fluid drifting camera to the lavish colour palette and hypnotic music. Since the pace remains relatively similar throughout, one feels that this movie could go on infinitely, adding to why the film feels like it was indeed made with love, because of how much Jenkins seems to appreciate each of his subjects. While this is a credit to his filmmaking, it is also problematic as it leads to many long scenes with minor characters that ultimately feel unnecessary. By giving special attention to each character, we end up with less focus on the leads and ultimately leave the film without knowing too much about anyone – just a little bit about everyone. On top of this, the dialogue feels as though it was unnaturally lifted from Baldwin’s novel and makes what should be candid conversations feel stilted. There is a certain balance missing in this film, and the result is a great sense of sentiment on the part of the filmmaker with less of it imparted on the audience.