Barry Jenkins is a filmmaker with a compassionate eye. He doesn’t just tell a story, he immerses you with the utmost care into a delicate tale that requires love and patience from its audience. You feel every emotion that befalls the characters as the camera occasionally, and with grace, focuses on their face and takes a brief moment to allow the viewer to put themselves in their shoes. It's a powerful moment of intimacy that’s guaranteed to leave an impression. You fall in love with the poetic atmosphere, the music, the characters… it's a beautiful experience. His previous Oscar-winning movie Moonlight was a true testament to the tones that he values in his narratives and his third feature-length film, If Beale Street Could Talk, is a follow-up that sweeps you off your feet while simultaneously breaking your heart in an eloquent adaptation of James Baldwin’s acclaimed novel.
If Beale Street Could Talk is set in 1970’s Harlem and follows the passionate romance between Tish, played by an instantly lovable KiKi Layne, and her fiancé Alonzo, played by a charming-as-ever Stephan James, who's known as “Fonny” to his friends and family. The couple’s life is derailed when Alonzo is put in jail for a crime that he didn’t commit, which is where our story begins. The film opens with Tish visiting Alonzo in prison to inform him that she’s pregnant with their child – information that Alonzo struggles with at first, since they’re not officially married, but then settles into a feeling of joy and excitement that Tish carries with her while delivering the same news to her family.
Tish’s family is light-hearted and kind, especially her mother and father played by Regina King and Colman Domingo respectively, whereas Fonny’s family is more orthodox and lack a closeness that Tish’s family radiates. The two family’s meet for a brief moment, to toast to new life, but tensions arise when disagreements form over what will happen with the baby. Fonny’s family, excluding his father, believe that it’s unholy for the two lovebirds to have a child together when they haven’t tied the knot. Tish’s family believes that the baby will be loved no matter the situation it’s raised in. From this point on, the movie centers its focus on Tish and her family as they work to prove Fonny’s innocence while helping bring this new baby into the world.
There are so many aspects to this movie that slowly weave themselves together to wrap you in a warm, comforting embrace. From the beautiful pastel color palette to the electrifying score by Nicholas Britell, every detail beckons you into the narrative and welcomes you with open arms. It’s a story that’s rich in its atmosphere and masterfully crafted in its writing and direction. KiKi Layne and Stephan James emit young-and-in-love energy that feels realistic and refreshing. The audience doesn’t need convincing; their connection appears effortless, especially through those direct moments of looking in the camera. Each close-up focuses on the emotions that they’re experiencing, and longs for you to feel everything with them. The accompanying score in these scenes flutters like a beating heart that’s jittery with first-love nerves and further draws you into the world that Jenkins created. These are the moments that he truly excels in as a director. He knows how to perfectly capture an aura for a story and submerge you right in the thick of it.
If Beale Street Could Talk is a distressing tale of a couple who's stuck in a battle against a racist and unjust system that wishes the worst on them. It’s gorgeously shot and layered to the brim in messages of importance. Like his previous films, Jenkins doesn’t want you to cautiously dip your toes in, he wants you to take the full plunge – and I’ll gladly dive in head-on for any film of his.