There was a trailer for If Beale Street Could Talk which I must have seen a half dozen times. You know how some previews tell you so much that you feel as though there’s no need to see the film at all? This one was quite the opposite as I could hear, more than once, puzzled utterances from the audience.
The movie was written for the screen and directed by Barry Jenkins, the creative force behind Moonlight, which beat out La La Land for best picture. It is based on the book by James Baldwin. The story is set in 1974, but, in many ways, it could have been 2018.
The movie quotes Baldwin as saying, “Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street.” Though the original Beale Street is in Memphis, this story is clearly in New York City.
Without being a spoiler, I’ll tell you that the movie is primarily a love story in the midst of an unjust system. Tish Rivers (newcomer KiKi Layne) and Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James from the Homecoming TV Series) have known each other forever. Their friendship evolved into love. Tish and her family struggle to prove Fonny innocent of a terrible crime.
The narrative is nonlinear, bouncing around in time, but one always knows where we are in the story. Yes, there are a couple terrible folks. But there’s also great kindness and generosity bestowed upon the couple. And why not? My wife, in particular, LOVED this attractive pairing.
Regina King deserves her Golden Globe for best supporting actress as Sharon, Tish’s mom. In a smaller role, Aunjanue Ellis is also strong as Fonny’s mom. Some critics thought the film wasn’t gritty enough, to which I suggest that not every film about black people need be oppressively bleak. A mote legitimate complaint, I suppose, is too much music doing the atmospheric lifting, but it’s a minor quibble.
Only at the very end does If Beale Street Could Talk become a tad pedantic, and by that point, it was earned. As usual, my wife and I saw it at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany.