If Beale Street Could Talk is a heart-wrenching glimpse into life as a black family in 1970’s New York.
The relationship between Tish and Fonny really is the type of romance you dream of. Best friends from an early age, they grew up together and since fell in love. They’re inseparable. The world is their oyster. Living on the streets of Harlem, however, isn’t always the dream scenario.
After Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, Tish is forced to reflect upon her first love and what the future may hold for her, Fonny and their would-be family.
Based on the acclaimed 1974 novel by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk exists narratively within two worlds. The first is a dream-like melancholy where our memories and the world we now inhabit is viewed through rose-tinted glasses. It’s poetic, hopeful and everything we aspire for ourselves to become.
The other world is the harsh reality of being a black family in New York City. It’s brutal, unapologetic and doesn’t care about your personal dreams.
By diverting back and forth, as a viewer, you’re swayed by the lure of the dream-like fantasy. It’s moving, smooth and uplifting. It’s the raw emotions we all wish to feel and experience.
This is quickly undercut by the roughness of the real world. This back and forth creates a rollercoaster as you’re subjected to high aspirations and low outcomes. It’s exhausting yet captivating as you follow Tish tirelessly trying to make sense of the world.
Much like his previous masterpiece Moonlight, Barry Jenkins follows with up the type of self-assurance you get from winning the Best Picture. This is Jenkins the artist at work. Everything on screen, or the mise-en-scène if you will, is meticulously thought out. From the lighting to the costumes, If Beale Street Could Talk creates a world for the viewer’s eyes to vividly inhabit.
Coupled together with a beautiful musical score from Nicholas Britell, that deserves all the awards consideration it’s getting, If Beale Street Could Talk feels like moments we’ve seen before on film but arranged in a wholly different manner.
Though poetic and brimming with artistic vision, If Beale Street Could Talk won’t be for everyone. It’s slow burning narrative and lengthy scenes may cause some audience members to drift off and think of tomorrow’s shopping list. For those who are suited to this film, however, you’re in for a treat. It’s emotional, wistful and captivating in its message, its vision and its all encompassing beauty.
If Beale Street Could Talk is due for release in the UK on 15th February 2019. This review was written as part of a preview held by Odeon Cinemas.
By Jordan Barrett