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Sunday, December 10, 2023

If Beale Street Could Talk Movie Review: A Breakthrough, Hard-Hitting Hollywood Romance

If Beale Street Could Talk is based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name.

It follows young African-American Clementine “Tish” Rivers (KiKi Layne) who with her family’s support, seeks to clear the name of her wrongly charged lover Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) and prove his innocence before the birth of their child.

From the trailer, the movie promises to be an intense and emotional love story directed by Barry Jenkins.

How effective is this romance? Filme Shilmy reviews.

Barry Jenkins’ eye for good cinema

Barry Jenkins is a maverick filmmaker and his eye for cinema and storytelling is truly like no other.

His last Oscar-winning film Moonlight was a poignant and unique love story and so is Beale Street. 

Despite set in the early 70s, the movie is quite progressive and avoids falling into any stereotypes or melodramatic tropes.

One prime example is when Tish decides to break the news about her pregnancy to her family, there is no angry outburst from the parents.

Initially, one braces themselves to witness a negative reaction, but we are in turn surprised to see the positive response.

But if there is a dramatic and pessimistic outburst, it is from Fonny’s mother and sisters (the male love interest’s family), rather than Tish’s clan (the female love-interest).

Jenkins presents a balanced and realistic depiction of human emotions.

He does not fall prey in making a tragedy even more devastating, which we occasionally see in Bollywood films. His depiction is real and raw.

The choice of camera shots, locations and non-linear narrative structure all work in consonance.

One scene which gives goosebumps is when Brian Tyree Henry as Daniel Carty speaks about his ordeal in prison.

A reminder of a once-racist & supremacist America

Whilst the main crux of the film is a love story, the backdrop is of a racist and a white supremacist America.

From a cop deliberately arresting Fonny to the refusal of renting apartments, there are several references to prejudice against black people.

Moreover, we also see past images of black people in America during harsh phases – including slavery.

But if there are scenes of racial segregation, then there are sequences of acceptance by white people.

Given that racism and romance are at opposite sides of the spectrum, Jenkins gets that perfect balance between the two concepts.

Last year, we were moved by The Hate U Give (also based on a novel) and now we have Beale Street. 

It is great to see that Hollywood is presenting stories regarding the segregation of African-Americans, it is extremely important that people witness the suffering caused by hegemony.

One sincerely hopes that more such narratives are presented on celluloid as we MUST learn from history.

Powerful performances

Beale Street is enriched with some powerful performances.

To begin with, Stephan James is extremely charismatic and charming as Alonzo aka Fonny. His screen presence exudes of impact.

From body language to dialogue delivery, James does an incredibly convincing job of a star-crossed loved wrongly accused of rape.

Stephan has it all to excel as an actor.

KiKi Layne is completely natural as Clementine.

When it comes to the romance and emotional quotients, Layne enacts it with such ease. She also comes across as a seasoned actress.

KiKi and Stephan’s chemistry is formidable. They genuinely come across as immense lovers and this will strike a chord with the audience.

Regina King and Colman Domingo as Tish’s parents are also first-rate. Through their powerful performances, they prove that they too are seasoned actors.

Aunjanue Ellis as Fonny’s mother is also effective. One feels resent towards her due to her regressive and negative emotions towards Tish.

What’s Missing?

There are a lot of positive aspects to Beale Street. However, the second-half seems quite stretched out and the screenplay could’ve been tighter. 

Also, it could’ve been better to see more input from Alonzo’s family in the second half. We catch a glimpse of them at the beginning, but then most of them seem to disappear in the latter portion of the film.

Even though the film’s pace is slow, the narrative proceeds well. 

On the whole, If Beale Street Could Talk is a powerful, path-breaking and intense romance that will be remembered for years to come.

It is another masterpiece by Barry Jenkins which reminds us of the racial segregation faced by African-Americans and at the same token, teaches that one must trust in love. 

This is a must-watch film, not to be missed.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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