If Beale Street Could Talk: Barry Jenkins has done it again.
Two years ago, director Barry Jenkins rose to the top of awards talk when his film Moonlight took home Best Picture during the 2016 Academy Awards.
This year, Jenkins is trying to do it once again with If Beale Street Could Talk.
Based off of the James Baldwin novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk is a story of love, intimacy, heartbreak, hardship and the terrible, awful world that we live in — all told through the eyes of a 19-year-old woman named Clementine ‘Trish’ Rivers (Kiki Layne).
For as long as Trish can remember, Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James) has always been right by her side.
It started from when the two of them were very young, as Trish and Fonny would spend nearly all of their free time together, despite coming from very different (although, for the most part, loving) families.
As they grew older, it didn’t surprise Trish in their slightest when that friendship gradually turned into romance — they both know each other so well that it was just an easy, natural thing to do.
Together, they might not have a lot of money (or any money at all, really) and they also might always have to fight off the racists and bigots living in Harlem during the 1960s (although today really might not be too much better), but their love is strong enough to overcome all of that.
Until something happens. Something really, really bad.
Alonzo is on his way back to their apartment one afternoon when he gets stopped by the police. He’s had run-ins with the officer — a known racist named Officer Bell (Ed Skrein…WAIT, THAT WAS ED SKREIN?!?) — who pulls him over before, which is how Alonzo knows what comes next can’t be good.
According to Officer Bell, Alonzo is being arrested for raping a Puerto Rican woman named Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios).
Even Officer Bell knows that it would have been seemingly impossible for Alonzo to actually have done so. Despite the fact that Alonzo is just about the nicest guy in the world and would clearly never even dream of committing of such an act, he was arrested half-way across town from where the crime took place — even though Bell says it happens within minutes of when they picked Alonzo up.
Rogers, however, didn’t get a good look at the person who did it. She also doesn’t want to relive the awful memory so, upon being approached by Bell and the racially biased jury, she agrees to blame Alonzo just so she can put all of this behind her.
To complicate matters even more, Trish learns that she’s pregnant just days after Alonzo is taken into custody.
While she’s an optimist at heart and has an unquantifiable amount of support from her father, Joseph (Stephan James); mother, Sharon (Regina King); and sister, Ernestine (Teyonah Parris); even Trish knows that this situation is not a good one. She’s prepared to love the baby no matter what, of course, but she knows that, even with a young and hungry lawyer named Hayward (Finn Wittrock) working Alonzo’s case, the love of her life might never be able to join her in this journey through parenthood.
What follows is one of the most Barry Jenkins-y movies to ever Jenkins.
That’s a good thing, of course, as Barry Jenkins is a master filmmaker who really knows how to draw out these complicated, touching relationships.
Unlike Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk is a lot less urgent of a film, meaning there’s more time to dwell in these relationships and the ways that characters interact with one another (not saying that’s a bad thing about Moonlight or that one is better than the other, they’re just very different films).
What we get from If Beale Street Could Talk, then, is a really well-realized, beautiful look into the love shared between Trish and Alonzo, Trish and her family and Trish and her unborn child, and the ways in which that’s more powerful than all the hate that’s trying to wear her down.
From the moment the film opened, I bought into her relationship with Alonzo to the utmost degree. The way they set it up as a friendship that gradually turns into a romance feels all too natural, to the point where, just for a second, my cold, stony heart believed that love really does exist.
The way Jenkins then explores how that love continues to grow and adapt as time goes on is done with such careful, honest reflection.
There’s one scene in particular that really drives this point home — it’s probably my favorite scene in the movie but I also don’t want to spoil what, exactly, happens during it. All I’ll say is that it involves a broken down apartment, an invisible refrigerator and Dave Franco (who might be slightly miscast here, but the scene was so good that I didn’t really mind). It’s a moment perfectly captures the way these characters feel about each other and why, as an audience member, love them so much.
The way Jenkins explores Trish and her family is also particularly strong, even if it wasn’t as prevalent in the movie as I may have hoped. Within the first fifteen minutes of If Beale Street Could Talk, there’s this great extended shot in which Trish’s family and Alonzo’s family are all in the same room, arguing about the crappy hand life has dealt them. Something pretty dramatic happens towards the end of that scene that suggests future ramifications for the rest of the film, only for it to never really come up again.
While that’s slightly disappointing, the screen time that Stephan James and especially Regina King do get after that moment is so strong and powerful that the only real crime I see here is the fact that they didn’t get to be in more of If Beale Street Could Talk.
There’s a pretty large supporting cast in here too, that deserves some recognition. Some of the faces — like Franco, Pedro Pascal and Diego Luna — might be a little distracting just because they’re only in the movie for one scene and don’t get a whole lot of characterization, even though we, as the audience, still know who they are.
Others, however, are able to overcome that — mainly Brian Tyree Henry, who’s able to do a whole lot in the in the little that he’s given.
While If Beale Street Could Talk might lose me just a little bit when it tries to be bigger than the performances and relationships (while poignant and well-meaning, the actual narrative isn’t one that breaks new ground), this is still a beautifully crafted, gorgeously filmed and magnificently scored (if it doesn't win that Oscar, at least, I'll riot) movie that warrants all the awards talk it’s been getting over the past couple of months.
Well done, Barry Jenkins. Well done.
Watch the trailer for If Beale Street Could Talk here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!
'If Beale Street Could Talk' - An intimate, relevant romance [REVIEW]8