Film Review – ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ (2019)

★★★★ 1/2

Barry Jenkins’s moving ‘Moonlight’ is equal parts unconventional, tragic and beguiling. Adapted from James Baldwin’s novel of the same name and featuring lustrous performances, ‘Beale Street’ is a gentle love story that packs a powerful emotional punch.

It arrived with high expectations following Moonlight’s Oscar win, but Barry Jenkins’s Beale Street is a very different film, albeit one that builds on its director’s promise. The film follows the blossoming love story between bright-eyed teens Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), as Tish’s pregnancy transforms their lives and relationships. But the newfound joy of starting a family is short-lived. When Fonny is accused of a crime, it becomes a race to prove his innocence – one that sends shockwaves through the lives of Tish, her family and beyond.

Beale Street is truly a film that romances its audience – from its sumptuous visuals, intimate close ups of its young lovers and stirring score, it sweeps you along with its tale of innocent love. But it’s also a film that respects its audience and depicts their coming of age with maturity and originality. Where other films would fall on the trope of the disapproving family, Beale Street instead draws more interesting, nuanced performances from its supporting cast. Oscar nominee Regina King shines as Tish’s mother Sharon, as does Colman Domingo as her father Joseph. Both characters find themselves navigating the most unexpected territory in their quest to save the young lovers.

That maturity extends to the twists and turns that emerge throughout the latter half of the film. Jenkins presents no easy answers to the issues of racial injustice and sexual violence that permeate the world he has created, and it quickly becomes clear that much more is at stake than Fonny’s innocence. As the story unfolds Beale Street places viewers in the shoes of those most impacted by his arrest, as it becomes a fight to save his soul as much as anything else.

Structured through a persistent use of voiceover and flashbacks, the film moves seamlessly between time zones, gradually exposing the mysteries and forcing its audience to question their assumptions throughout.

It all builds to a heart-pounding conclusion, that is at once surprising and unexpected on the one hand and yet inevitable upon reflection. In presenting his uncompromising vision of young love battling against titanic forces, Jenkins has succeeded in delivering Beale Street as a bittersweet experience that demands to be seen on the big screen.

Alex Straker

Drama, Crime | USA, 2018 | 15| 8th February 2019 (UK) | eOne UK | Dir.Barry Jenkins | KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King. Colman Domingo