If Beale Street Could Talk is set in 1970’s Harlem and tells the story of Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), two young adults with a blossoming love affair. Their time together is cut short when Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. With the help of her devoted family, Tish fights to prove his innocence.
Beale Street is an emotionally driven film with themes of pain, love, and hope. Based on the novel of the same name by acclaimed author James Baldwin, it’s a timeless story that deserves every bit of our attention.
Many waited with bated breath for Barry Jenkins’ follow up to the Academy-Award winning Moonlight. He hardly disappoints, adding to Baldwin’s already rich story and directing a very talented cast to perfection. From the superb acting, to the warm jazz-filled score, and robust narrative, Jenkins proves once again that he’s more than capable in the driver’s seat.
I found myself completely enamored with Layne and James in their respective roles. Both give powerfully grounded performances and share such a special chemistry onscreen. There is a sweet tenderness present in the way they speak to one another and the looks they share when they are alone. They embody these characters so well and I don’t think I’ve seen such a beautiful pairing of two POC in a film like this before.
Beale Street is not just about the deep love between Tish and Fonny, but about the love of family and community as well. Tish’s parents are very supportive of the relationship, lighting up when they learn of her pregnancy and doing their part to bring Fonny home in time for the child’s birth. In particular, Tish’s mother Sharon (Golden Globe winner Regina King) loves her family fiercely, and offers strength and comfort to her daughter from the beginning. King delivers a memorable performance and deserves all of the praise coming her way.
Other stand-outs worth mentioning: Tish’s dad Joseph played by Colman Domingo, her quick-witted older sister played by Teyonah Parris, Fonny’s Bible-thumping mother brought to life by Aunjanue Ellis and lastly, Brian Tyree Henry, who doesn’t appear onscreen for very long, but makes quite an impression as Fonny’s formerly incarcerated friend, giving a powerful account of his experience behind bars.
I’ve seen some people lament the final act, as if films always require some sort of tidy ending with a big bright bow. Unfortunately, that’s not the real world and moreover, I don’t think it does any favors to manufacture an ending based on our own fairy tale ideals. The truth is that our justice system is incredibly flawed and until it changes, men and women like Fonny will suffer. But even in the face of such tragedy and injustice, we cannot forget the importance of hope and the power of love.
I think that’s some of what Baldwin was trying to convey when he penned the novel, and probably something that inspired Jenkins as well. It’s just as the tagline reads, “Trust love all the way”.
If you have an affinity for films like Fences, Marshall, and The Shawshank Redemption, or documentaries like Ken Burns’ The Central Park Five (not to be confused with the not-yet released Ava DuVernay original series for Netflix), I highly recommend you make time to see If Beale Street Could Talk.
If Beale Street Could Talk is currently in theaters. Have you seen it yet? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments below!