After Barry Jenkins’ furious critical success “Moonlight” he joins in If Beale Street Could Talk and tells a touching love story, embedded in a study of the milieu of the 1970s, in which black people had to actively defend themselves against prejudice and hatred. One-hit wonder or new star in the director’s sky? We reveal this in our review.
The Plot Summary
In America in the 1970s, racism against people of color was on the agenda. 22-year-old Tish (KiKi Layne) and the sculptor Fonny (Stephan James) are a young couple in the poor Harlem district. Fonny is falsely accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman and is innocently sent to prison without a trial. A short time later, Tish finds out that she is expecting a child with Fonny. She confidently assures him that she will get him out of prison before he is born. With the help of the family, she tries every means possible to prove his innocence…
If Beale Street Could Talk Movie explanation of the ending
Since “Moonlight” won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2017, this moment has been burned into the collective memory for all time. Shortly beforehand, “La La Land” was mistakenly declared the winner, but a few minutes later the mistake was cleared up and the “La La Land” cast left a little embarrassed and instead left the big stage to the “Moonlight” ensemble. This anecdote, which followed for several episodes, felt like it attracted more attention than the winning film itself. Admittedly, a brightly colored Hollywood musical is simply a greater crowdpleaser than a harsh milieu drama, even if it is no less beautifully illustrated and undoubtedly narrative-wise which has greater relevance. It will be interesting to see when director Barry Jenkins can break free from simply being the maker of the film that snatched the Oscar from under La La Land’s nose; perhaps already with his new work “Beale Street”, based on the novel “If Beale Street Could Talk” by James Baldwin. The drama about a couple whose young happiness is put to a severe test clearly bears the hallmarks of the Miami-born auteur filmmaker, who clearly relies on the staging strengths of his last film. They still work – “If Beale Street Could Talk” is meaningful emotional cinema against an accusatory backdrop, but in “Moonlight” it all felt a little bit fresher.
Ernestine (Teyonah Parris), Tish (KiKi Layne) and mother Sharon (Regina King won an Oscar for her performance).
The writer James Baldwin, who lived between 1924 and 1987, was born in the problem district of Harlem and experienced the racial hatred of his time firsthand. It is obvious that his novels, essays and stories often deal with exactly this topic. Some of them have already found their way onto the screen or were written specifically for it: a previously unfilmed biopic about Malcolm X, for example, or the award-winning documentary “I am Not Your Negro”. In “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Baldwin tells two stories at once that influence each other. On the one hand there is the love story between Tish and Fonny, on the other hand there is the criminal case surrounding Fonny’s alleged rape of a woman (mother Sharon’s own investigations unfortunately seem very out of place). One could even add a third level, because “If Beale Street Could Talk” represents the fate of marginalized African Americans in the United States in the 1970s. A lot of material for a film that’s less than two hours long, which only works because Barry Jenkins links the narrative levels that were already closely interlinked in the original novel even more closely. Only in flashbacks do scenes speak for themselves and the moment. They are the carefree shots of a slowly developing love in which a man and woman are self-sufficient, no matter what is going on around them. But it’s not done with that. In “If Beale Street Could Talk,” everything is connected to everything else. Love cannot develop freely in this environment, Fonny’s accusation puts the young happiness to a tough test and in the midst of all this the question arises as to whether one should really bring a child into this world.
Barry Jenkins presents his protagonist couple with such a huge amount of problems that at times it seems as if they exist either as an end in themselves or just to further underline the close connection between the two. Tish’s in-laws, who are surprised by the pregnancy, are portrayed in such an exaggerated way that the events in “If Beale Street Could Talk” lose credibility. The same applies to the over-dramatization of scenes such as the first intimate contact between Tish and Fonny or the birth of the child. Everything seems staged and cinematic; but that’s exactly why the two main characters, KiKi Layne, stand out (“Native Son”) and Stephen James (“Time for Legends”) all the more different from the rest. The feelings between the two characters feel real at all times – and ultimately, that’s what “If Beale Street Could Talk” is all about. Tish and Fonny are an absolutely believable couple who you wholeheartedly want to be happy with. The scenes in which the two of them have to deal with the problems that Jenkins sometimes pushes too hard are the strongest here. The difficulty of an African-American couple in finding an apartment or a trip to a supermarket accompanied by riots – Tish and Fonny show the audience their Harlem in the 1970s and, by the way, what racial hatred really meant back then (and to some extent still today).
Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish are inseparable.
Visually, “Moonlight” was already beyond any doubt – and not because the makers managed to find three actors to embody one and the same character at three different ages in such a way that one could get the impression that it was actually a single one Watching people age. In “Moonlight” the name said it all, as cinematographer James Laxton spent two hours covering a visual spectrum that ranged from pure poetic magic to rough charm to atmospherically illustrate the difficult lives of the boys in Miami’s socially disadvantaged area. The returning Laxton seems to view “If Beale Street Could Talk” as a visual antithesis to “Moonlight.” This time, instead of playing with the moon, he plays with sunlight to really flood his pictures with it. Scenes in which Tish and Fonny are simply walking down a street become magical encounters between two people by playing with different shades of brown and orange. This is anything but subtle, especially since the composer Nicholas Britell was also involved in “Moonlight”. (“Vice – The Second Man”) all of these scenes are accompanied by a score that here and there dictates too much what the viewer should feel. But in the end everything comes together again as fittingly as the viewer is already used to from “Moonlight”.
Conclusion: “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins proves with his drama “If Beale Street Could Talk” how much he has internalized the living situation of the black US population and delivers a touching portrait of two lovers, which, however, focuses a little too much on its status as a milieu study leaves.
“If Beale Street Could Talk” can be seen in USA cinemas from March 7th.