Unlike Watson, I don’t live in a hip urban area, so many of the big awards bait movies don’t hit my neck of the woods until after New Year’s Day. So, while he did see and review If Beale Street Could Talk, I was only able to see it this past weekend.
Well, I’ve seen it now!
Based on the novel by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of Tish (KikI Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James). The two have known each other their entire lives, and now, at ages 19 and 22 respectively, they’re deeply in love with a baby on the way.
Also, Fonny is in prison, accused of a rape he didn’t commit. Tish lays out the evidence early on. There’s no way Fonny committed the crime. But this is New York City in 1974 or so (that’s when the book came out). Many of the sorts of things Fonny could use to prove his innocence doesn’t exist, and there isn’t enough interest in the powers that be to keep an innocent African American man out of prison–something many people would still argue is true today. What follows is both the sad story of the two young lovers separated by an unfair and prejudiced legal system and a touching story of two young people in love. There’s no “meet cute” here. The two have always known each other. This feels like a genuine relationship between two young people destined to be in love, and it’s beautifully told. It helps that Layne and James are both fairly unknown actors with real chemistry in the scenes set before Fonny’s arrest.
Jenkins’ previous movie, the Oscar-winning Moonlight, got a similar reaction from me: this is a beautifully told story where there are no bad performances with one real standout, this time with Regina King as Tish’s mother. This one will hit you right in the feels, and it will earn those feels. This isn’t some cheap thing to play your emotions like a violin in an unearned manner like so many tearjerkers. That said, there was one thing that didn’t quite work out, and that was Tish’s narration. Given an echo of some kind as if to suggest memory or a dream, it made it mostly more difficult to understand, especially for someone like me who has tinnitus in one ear. Still, this was a damn good movie, one that could have made my 2018 Top Ten List if it had just come out a couple weeks earlier around here. 9.5 out of 10 self-righteous types making a happy occasion a sad one.