Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Film Review | If Beale Street Could Talk

Fonny and Tish: when friends become lovers 
 If Beale Street Could Talk, based on James Baldwin's 1974 novel is a heartbreakingly beautiful film which is in equal parts a love story and an honest portrayal of America's recent racial history. 

Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Alonzo Hunt, popularly known as Fonny (James Stephan) are childhood friends who blossom into lovers. At the point at which we meet them, Tish is getting ready to become Fonny's wife. This should be the perfect sweetheart romance except, Tish and Fonny are African Americans growing up in 1970s Harlem.

Tish soon discovers that she's about to become a mother, which leads to the two families meeting to discuss the new arrival. The families are generally happy, except for the overbearingly religious Mrs. Rivers, Fonny's mother (Anujaune Ellis).  But overall, we see everybody adjusting and offering their support to the young parents to be. This is until the night Fonny is falsely accused of rape by a young woman. He is swiftly arrested and held in jail before his trial. 

Fonny's race, and the fact that his alibis (from Tish and a close friend) are deemed unreliable make it virtually impossible to fight off such an accusation, especially with a crooked white cop who's hell-bent on seeing him rot in jail. Yet, the families pull together to help Fonny fight New York's judiciary system and win him his freedom. But how much of a chance does a young African American have in the face of a rape allegation, especially when his accuser is a white female? Will justice prevail or will Fonny and Tish's son begin a cycle many generations of black families find themselves trapped in: raised by a single mother and facing life without a father? 

For me, If Beale Street Could Talk had a sombre tone throughout. At the beginning (and I think also at the end), the film was punctuated with what I perceived to be real-life photos of black men in incarceration. This to me, brought the tragedy treated by the story to life. I can't tell you why, but even the scenes where Tish and Fonny were happy was tinged with sadness, like for example, in the lovemaking scene, or the perceived joy they felt when they finally found an apartment they could afford to move into.

There are moments where the camera zooms into the faces of our main protagonists, so viewers are looking them right in their eyes - sometimes for several seconds. For me, these "staring into the soul" moments are powerful and add to the vulnerability of the characters.

For most of the film, viewers hear narration made by Tish, which helps to carry the story along. Having said that though, I felt like the pace of the story did slow down somewhere in the middle and for some time, it plateaued. There is a scene where Mrs. Rivers (Regina King) goes to Puerto Rico to confront Fonny's accuser, and it was those scenes I struggled through a bit. I couldn't help but wonder if there was a more succinct way to get that part of the story across and if some more lively scenes might have helped the story to achieve some balance.
Mrs. Rivers takes a trip
However, I don't feel the film's shortcoming took away greatly from its overall beauty. One thing it does have, from the plot, cinematography to the jazz soundtrack and the characters, is depth. There is a richness to the storytelling that on few films achieve, and I commend the director, Barry Jenkins for being able to translate this onto screen.

This is no film for the kids or the immature mind. You will need to understand the complexities of love and loss, and justice to truly appreciate this film. Overall, I give it a 7/10. 

If Beale Street Could Talk will be released in cinemas across the UK on the 8th February.

Director: Barry Jenkins 
Duration: 117 minutes
Age Rating: 15

You may also be interested in:
Film Review | Lionheart
Film Review | Nappily Ever After
What BlaKkKlansman Taught Me About the Irony of History



  1. Hey! This sounds just like An American Marriage - the book. Well, similar storylines. Which means, I shall not be watching because my heart can't take more sad stories.

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    1. I'm still to read An American Marriage. It's sitting on my shelf, but it may need to sit a little longer ready for another sad story!

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