Movie #197 2020: If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

A step back from documentaries now to look at a gorgeous movie that not only stars a chiefly African American cast, but is also directed by the wonderful Barry Jenkins, (director of Best Picture winner, Moonlight).

Based on James Baldwin‘s book of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk is as much of a love story as it is a politic commentary. In fact, the first thing I wrote in my notes for this film is ”This is how you do a love story”. It’s beautiful, and it’s unashamedly African-American, as it should be.

First, a few comments about the cast. Regina King absolutely deserved the supporting actress Oscar she got for this; she is valiant, assured, and truly does her character justice. However, I’m surprised (or not surprised at all, considering the vastness of racism) that there wasn’t more hype for the two leading actors, especially Stephan James. He was excellent in this, and the fact that neither lead actor was even nominated just added some more #OscarsSoWhite fuel to the fire.

Every shot and every colour scheme used in this movie is perfection. The browns and the oranges, the composition, the lighting, the set decoration, the costuming… *chefs kiss* Barry Jenkins truly outdid himself with this movie, and – although it can be quite the unpopular opinion – I believe it’s a better movie than his previous film, Moonlight. I’m not sorry. This movie resonated with me much more, and feels more relevant to the very real, modern day issues we are facing today.

I’ll be honest here, I went into this movie completely blind. I wasn’t aware of the prison story line beforehand, but it hits you like a ton of bricks, especially with what’s going on in America currently. If anything, this could be part of an interesting double feature along with the 13th documentary that I reviewed recently – a fictionalised depiction of events to support the reality of the USA today.

There’s another note I made quickly after watching this movie that I’ve taken some flack for, but I stand by it. So here goes. The note was ”the fact that Black Panther won Best Original Score over this is a travesty”. Sure, I loved the music in Ryan Coogler‘s instant mega-hit. But the thing is, there are so many great superhero movies with similar music that it didn’t seem like there was much difference there for me. Sure, not all superhero movies have the benefit of Kendrick Lamar‘s production talent behind it, but there was just something pure and soulful about the soundtrack to If Beale Street Could Talk. It’s an absolutely wonderful achievement.

My only gripe with this was the length of the movie in comparison to the simplicity of the story line. Don’t get me wrong, this has both style and substance, but it definitely could have been 10 minutes shorter. Personal opinion, maybe, but I do feel as though some sequences were not as necessary as others.

Regardless of this minor negative, If Beale Street Could Talk is a stellar achievement. Not only is it super relevant right now, but it’s an in-depth look at an African American relationship that we so rarely see depicted in film, and it’s such a gorgeous – albeit hard to watch at points – piece of cinema.

If Beale Street Could Talk is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Enjoyability Rating: 

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