If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

When a movie ends, there are a variety of emotions one may find themselves experiencing. For Barry Jenkins’s new film, If Beal Street Could Talk (2018), I found myself feeling far too many things, so much so that I almost felt nothing. I don’t mean that in a bad way; I was just so stunned at the film itself. There is so much to appreciate from the costuming, the score, the cast, the writing, and the poetic nature, that it all meshes together. Jenkins left me in stunned silence, and it was glorious.

Beale Street definitely didn’t get enough Oscar love…

The film begins with Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) telling her boyfriend Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James), who finds himself wrongfully incarcerated, that she is pregnant. Fonny’s reaction is the one she is looking for, but telling their respective families proves to be the larger challenge. Tish’s mother (Regina King) and father (Colman Domingo) handle it much better than Fonny’s mother (Aunjanue Ellis). From there, Jenkins utilizes a nonlinear structure to fill us in on the history of their relationship, and to follow Tish through the pregnancy.

There is so much craftsmanship in this film to truly admire. I’ve often stated that my focus usually falls to the story, and in rare cases, I don’t pick up on some of the aesthetic elements in films. However, from the first time we see Tish and Alonzo, I noticed the costume choices, and it made an immediate impression on me about the film and the characters. While the inverted style of their clothing colors isn’t a pattern that recurs, it did make me appreciate the rest of the film’s costuming. I also found myself paying more attention to the sets and the relative mise-en-scène that Jenkins and his crew established, which are impactful and gorgeous.

While I mentioned the score in the introduction, it’s more than just the music that grabbed me. There is an intimate scene between Kiki and Fonny where the initial non-diegetic music is used to establish the sentiment of the moment. It soon fades out into the sound of rain, until Fonny gets up and puts on some mood music. This spinning record – which I believe is a reoccurring motif that I’ll be thinking about the meaning of over the next day or two – is used here to represent a passage of time in a stunning visual.  The use of music and the score by Nicholas Britell is insanely good.

The story of this film is beautiful in its simplicity, while managing to deal with many bigger issues. In other words, the best kind of story. It would not have as big of an impact if the cast couldn’t deliver the performances with the gravitas needed; they absolutely could, and did. In fact, some of the smaller characters even deliver extremely memorable performances. Not to take away from Layne and James, who must display one of the most powerful connections put to film (which they do), but my favorite was a number of the smaller ones. Hall and Domingo get some great scenes with and without Layne. However, my favorite moment was with Brian Tyree Henry (who has had an unbelievable year) playing Fonny’s friend, Daniel. They drink and talk, but the conversation gives so much insight into many of the film’s themes, and who Fonny is as a person.

Final thoughts…

Much like Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk is a film that leaves a big impression. The characters and their story is simultaneously hopeful and tragic – yet, it’s difficult to be entirely sad at the end, as the love displayed in the film fills you with so much hope. It’s probably pretty predictable, but I give If Beale Street Could Talk the Must See rating.

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