Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, received massive amounts of praise in 2017. It won three Academy Awards including Best Motion Picture of the Year and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture–Drama. Needless to say I was quite excited to see how Jenkins would follow that up. If Beale Street Could Talk, his third full-length effort, is already getting heaps of award buzz, and after seeing the film, I completely understand why.
There are so many things this film does that floored me, but let’s start with the story. Set in the 1970s, the film follows a 19-year-old girl named Tish (KiKi Layne) who is expecting a child. She recalls memories about her artist finacé Alonzo (Stephen James) throughout the story and visits him in jail (where he is being held for a crime he did not commit).
The way that this film tells its story is so seamless and made me invested in everything that unfolded. The team behind this movie decided that they wanted to use flashbacks to give us all the background information we need to know: Sometimes flashbacks can come off as jarring, but not in this case. The scenes they chose were not only integrated well, but gave beneficial insight into things that were important to the plot.
There are quite a few things that surprised me in this film, including some the cast members that I had no idea were even in this. (I won’t give them away since I want their appearances to surprise you as much as they did for me.)
All the characters in this movie were great, but the true standouts were Tish and Alonzo. They are so well developed and by the end of the movie, I cared so much about them as individuals and their relationship. A lot of the credit goes to Layne (Chicago Med) and James (Race) who portrayed these characters. They gave some of the best performances I’ve seen in years.
Jenkins did a terrific job with the direction on this film. He had a very clear vision in mind, and it shows — and I believe part of that vision was to do a great adaption of the original novel written by James Baldwin. Every little detail in this movie felt like it was put in with a purpose; nothing feels like filler.
Another standout feature of this film is the score. The second the mixture of jazz and classical hit my ears, I was infatuated with what I was hearing. Composed by Nicholas Britell, the music deeply complements the emotion conveyed on-screen. Britell accomplishes this by weaving soft brass horns in with sweeping string lines. This blend of sound swept me up and elevated every scene of this movie.
The way that James Laxton (Moonlight, Tusk) shot this film brought the characters into focus. With this film in particular, it felt like Laxton liked to be up in close on a characters face and have them fill the frame almost completely. This helped me engage more with what the characters were saying and not be distracted by other things that could’ve been in the frame. Another cool effect used often was the steady handheld approach of the camera. This raised in energy just the right amount in a lot of the shots and helped to make the film visually enticing.
I cannot overstate how much I adored If Beale Street Could Talk. I really have no problems with this movie. The story it wanted to tell was extremely well-paced and compelling. After Moonlight and now If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins has shot up the list of the most impressive directors working in Hollywood today. I recommend this movie for everybody: The elements of family and relationships in the film are relatable to all audiences. Go see If Beale Street Could Talk; I promise you will not regret it.
If Beale Street Could Talk is currently playing at FilmScene.