Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins has created one of the best films of the year with the beguiling If Beale Street Could Talk. The film is powerful viewing.

In 1970s Harlem, Tish and Fonny are in love. When Fonny is accused of a crime, Tish and her family do their best to prove his innocence…

Barry Jenkins exhibits his mastery as a filmmaker with If Beale Street Could Talk. An adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel, the film tells the story of Tish and Fonny. Despite being set in the 1970s, the film feels as relevant as ever. 

There is so much to be in awe of in If Beale Street Could Talk. Jenkins’ attention to detail is superb. His storytelling is absolutely enchanting. The narrative begins in the middle, before telling the love story through a series of flashbacks interspersed with present day scenes. Jenkins let the relationship unfold in a careful and natural manner, letting viewers fall in love with the characters as they themselves fall in love. 

Despite the age of the source material, the film is incredibly resonant today. The themes of persecution of minorities, police brutality, discrimination are all present. Jenkins deals with these themes sensitively, yet does not shy away from frankness. The conversation between Fonny and Daniel is one of most powerful moments in If Beale Street Could Talk. It really gets to the bones of issue; the trauma feels real. Elsewhere the show of solidarity from the landlord is an incredibly moving scene. 

Jenkins frames characters in such a beautiful way. The cinematography by James Laxton is wonderful. There are several beautiful shots, such as the close up of Fonny on the phone delivering his moving monologue. The camera is fluid in other situations, sweeping the viewers into the action. The use of colour and lighting charms. The score works very well; it is distinct from the diegetic music, but beautifully sets the mood. 

Performances are flawless all round. Kiki Layne and Stephan James are superb. Layne’s quietness is perfect, while James is so expressive. Regina King finally gets a role with real meat; she is wonderful. Colman Domingo is also great.

If Beale Street Could Talk shows Moonlight was no fluke. Barry Jenkins is one of the best directors working today.

If Beale Street Could Talk is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

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