If Beale Street Could Talk Reviews
The acting is good but not Oscar-worthy.
The love between Tish and Fonny is portraied in a very naive way, Actually Tish and Fonny are saints, their characters are perfect. The script is a bit heavy-handed,. some scenes are cringeworthy.
In no way am I saying that these sort of lines were unjustified when in context with the character's emotions and the film itself, but the lack of white characters who treat the characters with respect or are in anyway competent kind of makes me feel like the film was more telling the audience what to think rather than allowing them to make their mind up.
Whilst this film does well making its characters likeable and fleshed out, the story feels a bit too simple and generic for me to even really suggest watching it, let alone watching it again myself.
Everyone remembers the Oscars controversy from 2 years, when Moonlight won Best Picture over La La Land at the Academy Awards. Now, director Barry Jenkins provides another Best Picture nominee with If Beale Street Could Talk, an adaptation of James Baldwin‚(TM)s novel of the same name, which tells the love story of Tish and Fonny in 1970‚(TM)s Harlem. Fighting through prejudice with the support of her family, this movie follows a young African American woman looking to clear the name of her wrongfully charged lover before the birth of their child.
Beale Street draws its strength from Jenkin‚(TM)s direction, who brings out the vibrant colors of the neighborhood where this love story takes place. Combining that with superb performances from our main leads and a number of up-and-coming actors, you feel connected with Tish‚(TM)s struggle to help save her love and you can relate to her family who will stop at nothing to protect their own. Regina King and KiKi Layne definitely are the highlights of these characters and were the most fleshed out. The score too is incredible, as the percussion instruments provide an uplifting beat to the time when this takes place. In the end, this is a very emotional movie and is more suited for fans who can watch intense family drama and have the stomach for racially biased issues.
OVERALL SCORE: 8/10 ‚BEALE STREET HAS SPOKEN!‚?
Based on James Baldwin's 1974 novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk is aesthetically faultless, but, much like Moonlight, I felt the totality was considerably less than the sum of its exceptional parts. The biggest problem is the somnolent love story. Employing a Terrence Malick-esque esoteric voiceover, Jenkins lifts entire passages directly from Baldwin. However, what reads beautifully in the novel is out of place in the film, even in voiceover, and has the effect of rendering the two central characters completely unrealistic, with their love for one another idealised to such an extent as to become ridiculous.
In New York, 1974, Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), are in love, and planning to get married. However, when Fonny is accused of rape, the victim mistakenly identifies him in a line-up, and he is charged and detained. Awaiting his trial, Tish visits him in jail, telling him she is pregnant, and promising she'll do whatever it takes to get him out before the birth. With this as the central framework, the story is told in a non-linear style, jumping back and forth from one time period to another.
Aesthetically, much like Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk looks amazing. From James Laxton's vibrant cinematography to Caroline Eselin's colour coordinated costume design (look at all the yellow in the opening scene), everything we see rings true, and much like Moonlight, the influence of Wong Kar-wai is obvious; seen in the non-linear narrative and relatively slight plot, the poetic tone, the centrality of music, and the film's tendency to use visuals rather than dialogue to convey thematic points (although Jenkins is nowhere near as formally experimental as Wong).
As in both Medicine for Melancholy and Moonlight, Jenkins occasionally has characters speak directly to camera. They're not breaking the fourth wall, however. Such scenes are dialogue scenes. It's a technique that was used most famously in The Silence of the Lambs, where each character looked into camera when speaking to Clarisse, whereas she always looked just slightly off-camera, setting up a fascinating visual contrast which encourages us to identify with her. Beale Street doesn't do anything as interesting or subtle with the technique, but Jenkins's tendency to use it during moments of heightened emotion does suture us into the milieu of the film.
The use of a non-linear narrative structure has an important thematic effect; we know from the second scene that Fonny is in jail, meaning that as we watch Tish and Fonny planning their future, there's a shadow over everything. For the most part, this contributes to the tone of the film. However, Jenkins overuses the technique. I understand why the film is told out of sequence, but not to the extent it is. Compare this with Sean Penn's The Pledge, a linear narrative where he accomplishes the same thing with one out-of-sequence scene at the start of the film. Beale Street, on the other hand, jumps all over the place, never settling into a rhythm, with the cumulative effect one of distraction rather than immersion.
Which brings me to the film's most significant problem - Fonny and Tish don't seem like real people, not in the way they gaze into one another's eyes as if they are seeing each other for the first time, not in the way they speak to one another as if every syllable is of earth-shattering portentousness. They rarely sound like real people; instead, they adopt the eloquence of James Baldwin. In lifting sections directly from the novel, Jenkins shows that what works on the page, doesn't necessarily work on the screen, and the reproduction of Baldwin's rich and lugubrious prose is simply unrealistic, with the delivery sounding stilted and awkward, and, most egregiously, far beyond the lexicon of the characters.
Another problem concerns the depiction of Officer Bell (Ed Skein), the racist cop who frames Fonny for rape. Played as a leering pantomime villain, with bad hair, bad teeth, and bad skin, he's obviously a metaphor for the ugliness of racism, but he's so completely over the top, it rips you right out of the film. He'd be more at home in a video game than a socially conscious exploration of the challenges facing African-Americans.
On the other hand, Regina King's portrayal of Tish's mother, Sharon, is absolutely exceptional.
Beale Street is an undeniably beautiful film that depicts the love between two astonishingly attractive people (it's worth noting that in the novel, Fonny's unattractiveness is emphasised). Jenkins turns Fonny and Tish into a Ken and Barbie-esque couple, undermining Baldwin's depiction of them as existing in a realistic milieu. Whereas Baldwin's Tish and Fonny are flawed, contradictory, and relatable, Jenkins's protagonists are too-perfect-to-be-real, with every agonisingly serious pronouncement they make pushing them further and further away from connecting with the audience on an emotional level.