Whenever two people fall in love in front of the camera, the chemistry between them is crucial. Between Mae and Michael in THE PHOTOGRAPHER The sparks fly enormously, but somehow they don’t really let the viewer get close to them. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: The Photograph (USA/CHN 2020)
When famous photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams) dies unexpectedly, her daughter Mae Morton (Issa Rae) is left with many questions. A found photo leads Mae to search for traces of her mother’s youth and to a discovery that also influences Mae’s intense romance with the journalist Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield).
What actually happened to the love stories? With the very classic ones in which a man and woman fall in love with each other, have to overcome one or two problems in order to ultimately look into the future together? Romantic comedies used to literally flood the national and international cinema market. But cinematic love stories are currently in short supply; not even Nicholas Sparks still provides material for his tearjerkers. Director and screenwriter Stella Meghie (“You next to me”) In her new film “The Photograph” finally sends two lovers through the amorous trials and tribulations of a newly budding relationship; and avoids many clichés. For example, by setting up her story as a classic three-act play, but refraining from placing constructed obstacles in the way of her protagonist couple Mae and Michael. Instead, the focus is entirely on their burgeoning interest in each other – framed by soulful smooth jazz and enveloped in elegant city panoramas. It’s hard to understand why Meghie needs almost 110 minutes for a story that could have been told in 80 minutes.
Sparks fly between Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) and Mae Morton (Issa Rae).
The eponymous photograph influences the lives of both protagonists equally. The journalist Michael discovers the photo in the house of an interviewee, whereupon he obtains information about the photographer: Christina Eames, who in turn left the same photo to her daughter Mae, whereupon she begins to penetrate her dead mother’s life. Both people see a story in the picture. It has different effects on both. But they share a fascination for it and, above all, for each other. So it is of course the basis of the story that the two people’s paths cross at some point. And since they have already expressed similar interests through photography, it is no surprise that a love affair develops between the two. Ultimately, this image is nothing more than a McGuffin; Although Stella Meghie does everything she can to not make it look that way. With the help of flashbacks, she tries to bring substance to the photographer’s backstory and thus also to the image itself. But it doesn’t really work because the flashbacks are far too rudimentary. The focus here is clearly on the romance between Mae and Michael – at least on this level the film scores.
“The focus of ‘The Photograph’ is the two protagonists’ burgeoning interest in each other – framed by soulful smooth jazz and enveloped in elegant city panoramas.”
It’s quite refreshing that Stella Meghie leaves out some classic genre tropes in “The Photograph”. The aforementioned avoidance of artificially induced conflicts is just as important as the omission of a classic “they like each other, but they don’t really want to, but in the end they get each other” structure in romance films, which has recently been so over-present, especially in USA romantic cinema . “The Photograph” is simply about two adults who develop an interest in each other and ultimately get involved with each other. A completely romantic affair that seems so authentic especially because the sparks between the two main actors are just flying. Issa Rae (“The Turtle Doves”) and LaKeith Stanfield (“Knives Out”) have excellent chemistry with each other. Nevertheless, their relationship doesn’t always seem to be on equal terms; For both of them, the budding love seems to be something like a game of cat and mouse. At least at the beginning they seem to be really running around each other and checking each other out, so that you want to shout to them that they should please just fall in love with each other now. Artificial stalling tactics have never worked on dates.
From then on the two spend a lot of time together.
Once Mae and Michael finally fall for each other, there is no stopping their feelings. It’s fun to watch them adore each other, but you never get really close to the characters. This is also because Stella Meghie chooses a clientele for her story that is probably very far removed from the reality of most viewers. Whenever particularly beautiful people have fun together in front of particularly beautiful backgrounds, the problem quickly arises that the topics discussed in the film are more first-world than real-world problems. The same is true here too. When Mae welcomes her lover into her perfectly styled apartment for the first time, you’re about to immediately retrain as a museum curator; Apparently you can earn huge amounts of money in this business. Certainly: Even very well-off people sometimes have similar problems (especially when it comes to love) as the common proletariat. But Meghie spends too much time creating an optimal acoustic (“The Photograph” is a 110-minute jazz playlist) and visual glossy environment for her lovers, in which one could also shoot a music video for Béyonce. The emotions fall by the wayside because the script doesn’t allow itself any weaknesses for the two main characters.
“Meghie spends too much time creating an optimal acoustic and visual glossy environment for her romantic couple, in which one could also shoot a music video for Béyonce.”
It’s unclear why those responsible don’t use the photo gimmick to give Mae in particular much more background. . Every now and then you get to see how unhappy the photographer once was with her life and how she gradually managed to break out of this unhappiness. None of this has a direct impact on events in the present, which is why you can hardly speak of them complementing each other – if you didn’t hear it again and again, you wouldn’t be able to establish any connection at all between Christina and Mae. In the end, it gives the impression that the contents of the letter Mae found at the beginning of the film, which her mother left for her along with the photo, only serves as a means to an end or, in this case, a twist. And unfortunately you can see it coming very early.
Conclusion: “The Photograph” is a beautiful looking and sounding love story whose protagonists unfortunately remain strangely distant. Unfortunately, the director and author does not take advantage of the gimmick surrounding photography that connects different time levels.
“The Photograph” can be seen in USA cinemas from September 10th.