Keeping with my Citizen Kane metaphor of a luxurious cinematic bath, If Beale Street Could Talk is a spa treatment for the eyes and ears.
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk (noted hereafter as IBSCT) is not Moonlight by any stretch. To me Moonlight was a masterpiece, in story, in acting, cinematography and so on.
Reminiscent of Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, in IBSCT, we’re treated to the gorgeous symbolic benefits of color (the feminine yellow that Kiki Layne and Aunjanue Ellis wore (the former an innocent chick [as in baby chicken], the latter as a religion jaundiced old bag). Layered innocence again in Kiki’s baby blue mock turtle neck and her more sophisticated paisley numbers as she works the perfume counter. And let’s not forget the dapper gents costuming; the manly leather worn by Colman Domingo and Michael Beach, the slick but honest suede worn by the movie’s main male character Fonny, played by Stephan James.
Our ears were gifted the string magic of Nicholas Britell ( I defy you to listen to the track “Eden” and not be stirred inside), our eyes basked in the slide and swing cinematographer James Laxton. Two scenes that stood out to me in this cinematographic regard were: 1. During Fonny’s empathetic listening to his friend Danny’s prison horror stories where the camera glides back and forth between them is indicative of a truly human exchange. This isn’t just one man’s story, it is two men sharing a moment. 2. When Fonny and Tish are shown the loft by a yamaka clad Dave Franco, the camera moves up and down Tish with the grace of a high rise elevator even though they are on the cusp of renting a barren warehouse.
The acting was excellent in most places: Kiki Layne-terrific, Stephan James (in need of a smidge more emotion) and the fathers (Domingo and Beach)-great, both mothers (Regina King and the aforementioned Ellis) fantastic. Even the sour sisters (reminiscent of the Lowell bitches of the film The Fighter) were phenomenal.
Overall, IBSCT is prime example of art transcending story….we don’t need to know the back story of the two families antagonism. We don’t need to see prison brutality, nor be bludgeoned by a rape scene. Jenkins does well in the documentary style interruptions of Kiki’s voice over just stating the facts, that police and prison systems worked jointly (present tense ‘work’ probably in some places still today) to continue slavery and racial bias. A sad, sad story told through magnificent art.