“I wish I’d put as much courage into love as I did into my work.” The big life regret of photographer Christina (Chante Adams) which lies behind the narrative of The Photograph is one that most of us have experienced at one time or another. Which is more important – career or personal life? And how do we balance the two? In Stella Meghie’s romance, the eventual answer is easy – simply because, as far as the film is concerned, we live in a romantic world.
When Christina dies, she leaves her daughter Mae (Issa Rae) her entire archive and two letters – a lengthy one for her and a much shorter one for her father. Mae is instructed to read hers first and it fills in the many gaps about her mother’s life. At the same time, Mae has met journalist Michael (LaKeith Stanfield), who is writing a feature that involves one of her mother’s photographs. The two fall in love, then find themselves facing the same dilemma that confronted Christina.
It’s a film of parallel stories. On the one hand there’s Christina, the mother, with her fascination for taking photographs, yearning to escape small town life and eventually making it to New York, but leaving behind boyfriend Isaac (Y’lan Noel). Her success with her camera is constantly at odds with being a single mother and means she’s not as close to her daughter as she’d like. On the other, there’s daughter Mae, curator at a major museum and doing well at it, and her burgeoning relationship with Michael, who is offered the job opportunity of a lifetime, while she’s digging into her past to discover her father. Both women follow similar enough paths to give a strong sense of history repeating itself, even if Mae hasn’t gone down exactly the same roads as her mother.
It’s all played out against a leisurely soft jazz soundtrack from Robert Glasper, something of a safe option, even if it is a good fit for the romantic moments – and there are plenty of those. In fact, the entire film unfolds at such a relaxed pace that it starts to drag and the sprinkling of comedy from Michael’s brother, Kyle (Lil Rel Howery) and his family is a welcome diversion and change of pace. That said, there’s no denying that Stanfield and Rae make an appealing and convincing couple, especially Stanfield with his own particular brand of low key charm. Rob Morgan, Kelvin Harrison Junior and Courtney B Vance all add to the talent on show, giving the film touches of acting class that make up for its over-emphasis on romance.
Despite its modern day dilemmas, The Photograph is essentially an old fashioned romance, one where you know how it’s going to work out and which will give you a small lump in your throat. But there’s a strong sense that it could have been a more meaningful combination of drama and romance. Instead, it goes for the soft option, one that makes it a better than average date movie but not a great deal more.
Drama, Romance | Cert: 12A | Universal | UK, 6 March 2020 | Dir. Stella Meghie | LaKeith Stanfield, Issa Rae, Rob Morgan, Chante Adams, Kelvin Harrison Jnr, Lil Rel Howery.