if beale street could talk
DIRECTOR: barry jenkins (moonlight)
STARRING: stephan james, kiki layne, regina king, and dave franco
REVIEWER: purdie jenkins
In early 1970s Harlem, daughter and wife-to-be Tish vividly recalls the passion, respect and trust that have connected her and her artist fiancé Alonzo Hunt, who goes by the nickname Fonny. Friends since childhood, the devoted couple dream of a future together, but their plans are derailed when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit.
Set in 1970s Harlem, If Beale Street Could Talk is a novel adaptation about a young Tish, 19-year-old and her family. Young love is the central theme as Tish recounts the growing relationship with her fiance, Alonzo, aka Fonny. He is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and she is pregnant.
This film is a love story, it’s about the passion, trust, respect that this young couple has for each other. Tish and Fonny are a devoted couple, young and in love, it’s something quite genuine to see on screen, a happy relationship. KiKi Layne as Tish, tells her story, jumping around in the timeline from when her and Fonny (Stephan James) were childhood friends to trying to prove his innocence. The chemistry between KiKi and Stephan is so natural, the display of love and devotion to each other is heartwarming, they create a couple that you root for.
The love story extends to Tish’s family, who are also involved in the fight to prove Fonny’s innocence. Familial love in If Beale Street Could Talk another example of trust, respect and devotion. The newly crowned Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress Regina King is a superstar, the complex emotions she delivers through just a look, she is a strong matriarchal figure ready to fight for her daughter and future son-in-law.
The fight that these characters are part of is bigger than just one person or a single ‘bad guy’, the fight is against a system built on racism, hate, and prejudice. The hopelessness of fighting against a system is frustrating, it’s a battle that is still being fought today, so the setting of 1970s Harlem just goes to show that while there has been progress, there are still parallels to today. Societal flaws isn’t a pretty bad guy, or an easy one to portray, but it works in this film to challenge the love, which never falters for a moment. Despite all odds the desperation and hope for a better life is what drives Fonny and Tish.
Barry Jenkins has more eyes on him, to follow-up the outstanding success of Moonlight. This film has his signature styling, every moment is just dripping in well-crafted beauty. It feels like you could take a screen grab and have a picture worthy of hanging on your walls. The creative team have done an incredible job of lighting, and colours (from costumes to the general setting), everything feels authentic but also tells it’s own story. Tish and Fonny’s complimenting costumes were a nice touch as well.
If Beale Street Could Talk is a must see, a rewarding and somewhat heartwarming film that has been beautifully constructed.