McCoy on Movies: If Beale Street Could Talk

McCoy on Movies: If Beale Street Could Talk

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“Girl, I love you … But you’re kind of killing my left shoulder right now …” Fonny (Stephan James) contemplates his next move while Tish (KiKi Layne) ponders their future in a scene from IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. Credit: Tatum Mangus / Annapurna Pictures. © 2018 Annapurna Releasing, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:

 

 

 

KEY CAST MEMBERS: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael Beach, Teyonah Parris, Finn Wittrock, Dave Franco, Emily Rios, Ed Skrein and Aujanue Ellis

DIRECTOR(S): Barry Jenkins

THE BACK STORY: Based on the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk stars newcomer KiKi Layne as Tish, a 19 year-old New York resident (the opening title card explains why a movie set in NYC takes its title from a famous New Orleans locale) who is in love with Alfonso (Stephan James) – Fonny for short. The young lovers embrace each other completely having known each other for years, producing the sort of romance that young people have dreamed of for centuries.

But their relationship is not without its problems for certain.

There’s Fonny’s sisters (Ebony Obisidian and Dominique Thorne)  and mother (Aujanue Ellis) who doesn’t exactly approve of Tish or the situation she’s gotten Fonny into …. But if you think Tish’s mother (Regina King) or sister (Teyonah Parris) is going to just let them run down their family, however, you, like them, have another thing coming. At least Fonny’s dad (Michael Beach) and Tish’s father (Colman Domingo) get along. Fonny’s friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) is having a rough go of things, too, following his release from prison.

But none of those problems are anything compared to what lies ahead when Fonny is accused of raping a woman (Emily Rios) by a police officer who may or may not have an axe to grind …

THE REVIEW: It’s romantic. It’s majestic. It’s infuriating. It’s depressing. It’s soulful. It’s upbeat. It’s melancholy. It’s heartbreaking. It’s artistic. It’s creative.  It’s hopeful. It’s frustrating. It’s raw and it’s unapologetic. In short, If Beale Street Could Talk is the African-American experience captured in two hours for the world to see.

Certain movies strike cords with certain audiences more than others. For as many people loved Black Panther, the film showed the economic power that African-Americans have in catapulting what could have been just another superhero movie into an Academy Award contender. I mention this because while the critical acclaim for If Beale Street Could Talk is widespread (just Google it – ok, I did the work for you), it’s inherently bound to resonate with African-American audiences just a little bit more than others because of how dynamically it nails down various parts of what being black in America is like today as much as it did when its source material was first published in 1974.

There’s the fragile look of heartbreak and envy Henry gives as his character watches the interplay between Tish and Fonny and knowing he will likely never enjoy it … There’s the #metoo creepiness of watching Tish be subtly sexually assaulted by a white male customer under the guise of shopping … Beale Street delivers more nuanced facets of the struggles many African-Americans face in a country where they are often reminded they are and that there will always be some that view them second-class citizens. The police scenes are why I made the “infuriating” comment above, especially in lieu of the continued incidents like this and this and this and this and … Thus, anyone still wanting to have a conversation to determine their level of “woke” may find Beale Street to be either the perfect conversation starter … or ender.

On a positive note, there are the happy moments that prove the human experience, however has no color and can be enjoyed by everyone. This includes watching Dave Franco’s character bond with Fonny over a potential living space, Domingo and King’s coming to Tish’s aid and the love and chemistry between James and Layne as Fonny and Tish. Forget the earlier commentary made about how the film will strike an extra accord with African-Americans; the way in which screenwriter/director Barry Jenkins (the guy who made 2017’s Academy Awards Best Picture winner Moonlight) shoots their scenes will possibly inspire plenty of Match.com/eHarmony accounts in hopes of finding a love like theirs. Layne and James are the heart of the movie, its driving force and its beacon of hope not only for each other, but also the audience watching it.

If Beale Street Can Talk has plenty to say – which is why the words “must see” are the only two you really need in regards to whether or not you should.

 

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 

Tabari McCoy
Columnist - Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. An award-winning stand-up comedian who also works as the public relations director at Cincinnati Museum Center, Tabari McCoy is the creator of McCoy on Movies, a blog about movies for film fans. The blog is written by someone who also likes movies that is smart enough to know his opinion isn't always the right one but is willing to express that opinion in public. McCoy also used to review movies for his college paper and a major metropolitan publication, so that helps add to his "street cred." Contact him at tmccoy@cincychic.com. You can also check out more of his work on his blog at McCoyonMovies.BlogSpot.com and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy.

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