If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

BARRY JENKINS

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.  USA, 2018.  , , .  Screenplay by , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , Barry Jenkins, , , Music by .   Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by , .  Toronto International Film Festival 2018.   Golden Globe Awards 2018.

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins follows up his exquisite Moonlight with another combination of elegant visuals and hard-edged storytelling, this time adapting the novel of the same name by James Baldwin.  is wonderful as a young woman who has just announced to her parents (, ) that she is pregnant, a challenging situation given that the baby’s father () has just gone to prison for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman in another part of town.  Layne knows he is innocent and also knows that he was arrested by a racist police officer who had a personal score to settle with him, but the proving of it is an uphill, financially-draining battle that is relieved for her only in her flashing back to golden memories of the hopeful future she and James shared in their early days of falling in love.  1970s Brooklyn is brought to life with vivid beauty, the icing on the cake of film whose only notable flaw is that, like many cases where the filmmaker is in great awe of the writer (which in the case of Baldwin is not misplaced admiration), the overall feeling is more literary than cinematic, coming across as a visual translation of the book and not something that flows spontaneously from the director’s mind’s eye.  gives the most memorable performance in her one scene as James’ mother, her religious zeal likely the result of her unhappy marriage; the opening sequence in which she confronts the Layne’s family creates an emotional intensity that sometimes mixes well with the flashbacks, whose dreamy images at times feel like interruptions.  The present-day narrative is where the majority of the best dramatic scenes happen, particularly those involving King’s standout turn as a woman confident in her belief that justice can be achieved through effort, despite daily reminders of the contrary.

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