Barry Jenkins (studio)
07 February 2019 (released)
11 February 2019
Barry Jenkins, the director of the incredible Oscar-winning Moonlight – returns with his onscreen adaptation of lauded African-American writer James Baldwin’s classic 1974 novel.
Set in 1970’s Harlem, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) are childhood friends who fall in love, but their bond is tested when Fonny is falsely accused of rape by a police officer (Ed Skrein) with a grudge, despite having two alibis.
As he awaits trial behind bars, 19-year-old Tish finds out she is pregnant and, with the support of her family, works diligently to try to get him released before the baby arrives.
The movie switches between flashbacks of the young couple, as childhood friends, when they graduate to their first kiss and make love for the first time.
Soon after the young couple move in together, we watch as an incident with a racist cop, who nurses a grudge against Fonny after he stands up to him when the cop harasses Tish, propels them towards a fate that continually tests their love.
Beautifully filmed, using cameras specially adapted to show off darker skin tones, Jenkins brings his signature, light-filled, visual style to a movie that is both parts heartwarming and heartbreaking.
There is an obvious parallel to present-day issues of racism, police brutality, and mass incarceration layered throughout the film, as well as an insight into the emotional body armour black people wear to negotiate life in a system that is unfairly weighted against them. But thanks to James and Layne’s chemistry, Tish and Fonny’s love is the chink of light we need to keep going, and throughout the movie, we're silently rooting for them.
They are supported by a stellar cast including Regina King as Tish’s mother Sharon, who fights just as hard for Fonny as her daughter does. Teyonah Parris plays her feisty, protective sister, and Colman Domingo plays Tish’s loving father, who raises money, by any means necessary, to pay the legal fees for the father of his first grandchild.
Amid the drama, there is plenty of humour, especially when Tish announces her pregnancy to Fonny’s bible-wielding mother in a tense scene that you will remember for a long time. Atlanta star Brian Tyree Henry also makes a brief but powerful appearance, delivering Baldwin's chilling soliloquy about the after-effects of prison.
If Beale Street Could Talk is ultimately a movie about romantic and familial love, with Tish and Fonny providing a rare onscreen representation of young black love onscreen that endures even through adversity. Add to that the gorgeous period sets, costumes, and a stunning score by Nicholas Britell, the award-winning director has added another jewel to his celluloid crown.