If Beale Street Could Talk
Starring KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Dave Franco, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal, Emily Rios, Ed Skrein, Finn Wittrock, Bryan Tyree Henry, Regina King
Oscar winner Barry Jenkins highly anticipated new film opens exactly the way you would hope. A perfectly timed musical score from his “Moonlight” collaborating composer Nicholas Britell folds into the frame. The two lead actors (KiKi Layne and Stephan James) wearing outfits that compliment each other, slowly walk down the street daydreaming about their future together. There might be too much pressure and expectations for Jenkins, who has become a beloved filmmaker, not only for his artistic creativity but for his integrity as seen throughout the 2017 awards season. Adapted from James Baldwin’s novel, ‘Beale Street’ takes us on a journey where one family must beat inescapable odds in order to be reunited. While his best picture-winning follow-up doesn’t have the electric energy “Moonlight” attained, ‘Beale Street’ is one of the most attractive films hitting cinemas this fall.
Tish Rivers (Layne) and Fonny (James) grew up together. She remembers a time they played in the bathtub as children. Their love has grown into a powerful connection, headed towards marriage and family until a snake found its way into the garden. Wrongly accused of rape by a corrupt cop (Ed Skrein), despite evidence and testimony that place Fonny elsewhere. Tish and her close-knit family work tirelessly for months scraping together money for a novice lawyer (Wittrock) to fight the case. Months turn into years as the man that should have been a part of a happy home, instead becomes emotionally transformed behind bars into someone different.
Production design is more intricate and noticeable, bringing the audience intimately into the conversations these characters have.
“Moonlight” had a color scheme of shadowy turquoise and purples cast over black symbolizing reflections from a Miami moon. ‘Beale Street’ has a pallet of bold yellows, granny smith greens and warm reds representing autumn in 1970s New York. The production design in ‘Beale Street’ is more intricate and noticeable, bringing the audience intimately into the conversations these characters have. Though, some of the dialogue scenes lack movement and cinematic intrigue, which might slow things down a bit too much for some viewers. The most memorable scene of the film is when the two families come together to celebrate Tish’s pregnancy, but it ends up anything but celebratory. Jenkins never allows this heated conversation to venture into parody, instead, the take away is a strong family unit willing to do anything for each other.
The number of great performances in ‘Beale Street,’ don’t match what "Moonlight" offered. However, it's a return to cinema for Regina King, who we haven't seen on the big screen much since her wonderful performance in "Ray". Currently the front-runner for supporting actress, King's screen time is short and much of the acclaim for her performance is based on love for King not necessarily what she does on screen. The "Miss Congeniality 2" star certainly elevate the few scenes she's in, simply by her presence and demeanor; those red lips and commanding eyes are unforgettable. If Mary J. Blige’s minor role in "Mudbound" was enough to get her into the conversation, King who has slightly more to do is a slam dunk. ‘Beale Street’ doesn’t have to be a second masterpiece to realize that Jenkins is a filmmaker that demands audiences stop and pay attention.
Jenkins doesn’t match the groundbreaking achievement of Moonlight, but his follow-up is extraordinary and beautiful.