Two creatives are drawn together by a love story that spans several decades.
While dealing with the sudden passing of her mother, Mae (Issa Rae) meets Michael (LaKeith Stanfield), a suave journalist who is covering a story in her mother’s hometown. Their paths cross in a magical moment of serendipity and they are immediately drawn to one another. As they spend time debating musical tastes and learning about the other’s past relationships, it becomes obvious that their feelings are real and it’s no casual fling. Mae is a little hesitant to make anything official and her apprehension grows as she reads through the lengthy letter her mother Christina left behind.
The two had a complicated relationship that affects how Mae views life and love. Christina was a talented photographer with her own mother/daughter issues, who often put her work before everything else.
As Mae reads about her parent’s relationship in her mother’s own words, she realizes that the past is being mirrored in her present with Michael. Ultimately, she learns to not only forgive Christina, but to avoid her mistakes in life and love as well.
It’s rare to see genuine romances onscreen these days, and even rarer to see a cast full of beautiful Black and Brown faces, which makes The Photograph doubly special in my opinion. The story is grounded and authentic, and the two leads come across as real people who are familiar and easy to relate to. Mae is an assistant curator at a swanky New York museum with little time for socializing and Michael is a sought-after writer with a deep passion for his work. Both are professionally ambitious and historically unsuccessful in relationships.
I loved seeing Rae and Stanfield in these roles because both are acting against type. We all know and love Rae for her comedy chops (any Awkward Black Girl or Insecure fans out there!?), and Stanfield is no stranger to dramatic roles, with memorable, heavy-hitter performances in the last year alone. It’s refreshing to see each actor step into a new space and own it.
New York City provides a great backdrop for their blossoming romance, as does the jazz-filled, slower paced life they experience when travelling to New Orleans. The film is beautifully shot and filled with style. I thought Rae and Stanfield worked wonderfully together onscreen.While some critics may get hung up on the momentum of the narrative, or constant shifting between the past and present, I think they can agree with me when I say The Photograph looks great onscreen.
The pacing of the film is slow; writer/director Stella Meghie seems to revel in taking her time, shooting almost entire scenes with little to no dialogue. On one hand, it made me feel involved in these character’s lives in a unique way, just seeing the minutia of their daily life; how they gazed at each other, the way Michael played an Al Green record, and how Mae prepared a whiskey neat, but on the other hand, I craved more opportunity to hear them share their thoughts aloud. I wanted to do more than just look at them and sometimes the silence was consuming. It’s these moments where the plot loses a little steam. The same can be said for the flashbacks that intertwine with the present. While it’s necessary to see Christina in the past (big reveals happen within this story line), it takes too much time to get there.
However, The Photograph is worth seeing. The messages about reconciling with our parents and their mistakes, as well as embracing vulnerability in relationships, and stepping out in faith, make this film distinctive. The lessons are timely and important for our culture (and my generation in particular).
The Photograph is in theaters today! If you’re looking for a romantic film to see this weekend, I recommend this one. Happy Valentine’s Day!
I don’t normally go for this genre, but I couldn’t pass up a film with this gorgeous cast. Do you have a favorite romantic drama? If so, let me know alllllll about it in the comments down below!