As an avid YouTube viewer, many of the videos I have recently watched were preceded by the ambient and moody trailer for the movie “If Beale Street Could Talk.” It could have been the drama, the cinematography or even the soulful singing of “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Fugees playing in the background that initially grabbed my attention, but I knew after seeing the preview twice that I needed to see this movie. So, I sent the link to my roommate and we decided immediately to go to the first showtime that worked for both of us.
The film, directed by Barry Jenkins, was not what I expected. Of course, trailers usually contrast the actual film, but this contrast was too big for my liking. I was expecting drama and tears and scenes that made my heart race, but what I received was a two-hour movie that moved too slow and focused too much on aesthetics than the actual plot. Even though the plot was interesting and the actors were truly remarkable, a lot of the time the movie was moving so slow that I had no idea where it was going to go next. With that being said, it was not an awful film.
Set in Harlem in the 1970s, the overuse of aestheticism and cinematography gave me the sense that I could be there with Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James), the main characters, if I had lived in NYC in the ‘70s. The chemistry between the two was impeccable; I really felt the emotion emitted them. Tish and Fonny captured my heart and made me sympathize for their situation: a young couple who grew up together, fell in love and then were forced to face the challenge of Fonny being wrongfully accused of raping a woman while Tish discovered she was pregnant with their first child. The movie moved through Fonny’s jail time and Tish’s pregnancy simultaneously, showing her struggle to get him out while also relying on her parents’ help, and also included flashbacks of their relationship, showing them falling in love and being in love before the arrest. Layne and James definitely produced emotional performances, but in my opinion, the actress who stole the show was Regina King, who played Tish’s mother Sharon Rivers.
Having loved Regina King since she was in “A Cinderella Story” with Hilary Duff, it was no surprise to me that she was the one who stole the show. Her performance was so natural, I felt like I wasn’t watching her act, but rather actually watching Sharon deal with the impossibilities she faced. Simultaneously, I felt that the scenes she was in moved by at a normal movie pace compared to the snail-like pace of Tish and Fonny’s scenes, leaving me only wanting more from King. She gave her character sass, confidence and immense courage, doing everything she could to help her son-in-law whom she viewed as a son of her own. If I were to redirect this movie, I would demand more screen-time for King.
Like I said, this movie was not terrible, it just wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. If it had moved quicker, I probably wouldn’t have any problems with it – besides the ending. I knew what happened was going to happen, I just didn’t want it to. I wanted a happy ending for these characters who endured far too much pain throughout the entire film, and although it wasn’t a sad ending, it just wasn’t ideal. However, it was necessary to get the overall message across: the unfair treatment of blacks in America at the hands of cops. The narrative of this movie really highlighted the ethos side of the Black vs. Cop war in America, giving you an insight on how people deal with it in a normal life, behind closed doors. Just that alone is the reason I promote this movie; to let people experience the pain institutionalized racism produces. Add in the random appearances of Finn Wittrock and Dave Franco — which genuinely confused me but nevertheless delighted me — that made this movie worth seeing, despite my near-negative review. All in all, I give “If Beale Street Could Talk” a 7 out of 10.