I think it’s fairly well known here on Shuggie Says that I’m a card carrying member of the La La Land fan club (I’ve even got the tattoo to prove it) but I truly believe that Barry Jenkins’ directorial breakthrough Moonlight fully deserved it’s Oscar win. It was such a poetically beautiful film that could speak to anyone.
Following that up now with an adaption of James Baldwin’s novel If Beale Street Could Talk Jenkins once again proves himself to be a mastercraftsman. Balancing a tender love story with beautiful and distinctive filmmaking, Jenkins has once again crafted a film that will not only wow technically, but hit you on the emotional level. He may not have made many films, but Jenkins is already earmarking himself as one of the distinctive voices of this generation of filmmakers.
If Beale Street Could Talk chronicles the relationship between Tish and Fonny, a young black couple living in Harlem during what feels like the 1970s. The flashes back and forth between the beginnings of their relationship and the moment when Fonny finds himself facing jail after being falsely accused, whilst Tish deals with being pregnant and fighting for his freedom.
What really makes Beale Street such a powerful experience is the fact that Jenkins takes the time to establish the relationship between Tish and Fonny, you can feel the love between them. Jenkins direction feels intimate, bolstered once again by the superb cinematography of James Laxton, drawing you in. This is bolstered by the tremendous performances from KiKi Layne and Stephan James, both of whom are fabulous in as Tish and Fonny respectively.
As good as Layne and James are the supporting cast arguably steal the show. Regina King is the cast member garnering most of the award buzz, and it is not hard to see why. Playing Tish’s mother Sharon she has one of the most powerful scenes of the film as she meets with Fonny’s accuser. But it is Brian Tyree Henry who, in his sole scene in the film, shone the brightest for me. He seamlessly transitions from larger than life to raw and vulnerable so perfectly, it is a shame that no one is talking about his performance.
If Beale Street Could Talk is yet another brilliant notch in Barry Jenkins growing body of work. He has created a film that manages to be joyous yet heartbreaking, delicate yet powerful, and intimate yet technically outstanding. Beale Street may not quite hit the same level as Moonlight, but it is close, and that is some achievement.