Based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. Has its memorable moments such as the argument between the families, when the mother comforts her adult daughter when she’s in bed, the situation by the store, and the Puerto Rico sequence. The narrative consists of mostly platitudes such as ‘you are not alone when you have a family’, ‘love makes you see the world anew’. Yet the acting and presentation transcends the clichés.
Besides the love story focuses on the hardship of the blacks, harassment on the street by whites, treatment during a criminal case, trouble renting a place to live, etc. The last act may frustrate some viewers as the story feels unfinished.
The blaxploitation movies from the 1970s tended to present whites as the villain without much nuance. In contrast, Baldwin’s/Jenkins’ universe is more realistic by including sympathetic white characters.
So why not a higher rating? To me, great art allows for multiple interpretations and I don’t see that here. The message of injustice towards blacks is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s but the storytelling forces its opinion on you and playing the race card feels a bit obvious. A good watch with a touching story about the communal bond between members of an oppressed minority though I’m not the biggest fan of one-dimensional message movies. As Alissa Evans wrote in her review, the characters’ personalities feel secondary to their circumstance. The lead Stephan James has kind, gentle eyes which might be the reason he was picked. KiKi Layne is likeable as well while Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry shine in supporting roles. The jazz score is accomplished and is incorporated well.
Jenkins told The Los Angeles Times on the subject of films based on black literature. “I don’t want to sound as though every novel by a black author should be translated to the screen, but I’m damn sure many more of them should be.”
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) is important and competently made yet didn’t quite manage to rock me to the core in the way Moonlight did. The characters lacked the deeper, emotional weight of Jenkins’ 2016 film. A sense of wretchedness was missing. Perhaps better captured in Baldwin’s book.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome