Just two years ago Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight’ won the big one at the Academy Awards and he’s back with another intimate tale of relationships, one that feels richly soaked in spellbinding love.
Alonzo (Stephan James) and his girlfriend Tish (KiKi Layne) have known each other almost their entire lives and they wish to move in together but Alonzo is arrested for a crime he swears he didn’t commit. Matters only become more difficult when Tish realises she’s pregnant with his child and the hopes of her lovers’ freedom start fading away.
Told in a non-linear fashion, this is a captivating tapestry of love and the strains of racist America destroying their ideal dream. Some films which flit back and forth can lose their way in a muddle or become a tiring slog but ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is neither because director Jenkins is an incredible master of storytelling. Character is front and centre and it shouldn’t ever be any other way, Jenkins has this inspiring knack to make the camera fall in love with his subjects and therefore, we as an audience do as well.
The look of the entire film is just lovely, that seems like such a simple word but you can’t help but topple into a comforting state when watching this beauty of cinema unfold. There’s a sumptuous quality to Tish and Alonzo’s connection making the spark of the story feel like a dream to get swept away by. James Laxton’s gorgeous, glowing cinematography and the abundance of perfectly framed close-ups really make this a personal picture and only go and make the unfair persecutions of their situation that much more emotional.
Nicholas Britell delivers a dreamy score, one which beautifully mirrors the elegance that cinema can often deliver in blue moon moments. The joyous sounds of New Orleans inspired jazz aid the honeymoon romance of the central pair but when circumstances get rougher, such as Ed Skrein’s despicable officer inflicting a troubling presence, Britell’s work becomes moodier and unsettling with the faintest brass notes to be heard in the distance.
Stephan James and KiKi Layne are an exquisite duo who perform with such an infectious chemistry which make the emotional beats that much more pronounced. Regina King is a triumph as Tish’s mother Sharon, a parent who will do anything for her little girl. Teyonah Parris is excellent also, delivering with sharp precision, some cracking lines in the face of disapproving in-laws.
Barry Jenkins maintains a determined solid bond between his stars, things may threaten to shake their foundations but love is constant and with these two young lovers it is heart-breaking to witness.