I must set the scene of my screening. The guy sitting next to me was definitely high. He (noisily) ate a large portion of nachos, a packet of Munchies and a packet of Sour Babies. He was drinking a huge can of Monster with the bizarre fruity smell drifting across, mixing with the odour of the substances he’d been taking. He wouldn’t stop fidgeting, and he kept laughing at scenes that were in no way funny. And yet, despite all these distractions, I still really liked this film.
Directed by Barry Jenkins (of Moonlight fame), If Beale Street Could Talk tells the story of a young couple’s relationship and how they cope after the male is wrongly arrested for a tragic crime. The film focuses on the race politics of America, highlighting how many black families have to grow up in similar areas (metaphorically referred to as Beale Street) and this story of love through tough situations is one being told across the states.
The performances are incredible in this film. KiKi Layne and Stephan James play the lead couple, and their relationship together is amazingly palpable. They seem so happy together in a world of hardship and this was beautiful to see. Surrounding them are a stunning cast of supporting characters, notably the two families of the couple who really don’t get on. The scene where the families meet is the standout scene and features some hilariously crippling dialogue in an otherwise mellow film.
The narrative is presented in a non-linear way, weaving between the present of dealing with the arrest, and the past of the couple’s relationship blooming. The story plays out in a very slow manor, similar to Moonlight, but by presenting the film out of chronological order, it adds tension and drama. This means that characters will behave differently, you will wonder why they’re acting in this way, but we’ll then get a flashback of extra exposition that will explain why their feelings have changed.
The cinematography and score in this film are both utterly gorgeous. Beautiful colour pallets have been used to give the film a bright timeless design, and this reminded me of something like La La Land. The music, by Nicholas Britell, is incredibly mellow and atmospheric, with certain themes sounding similar to Taxi Driver. It’s a stunning achievement, blending soft piano themes and distant jazz trumpets in a string soundscape.
Overall, If Beale Street Could Talk is clearly a film for critics and the Oscars. I can understand why audiences might not enjoy this as much, due to its slow pace and mildly underwhelming narrative. However, as a piece of artistic filmmaking, it is a beautiful piece that highlights an important social issue.