For dad’s birthday weekend extravaganza, we took a break from eating lobster tails and watching baseball to watch a movie. We chose “If Beale Street Could Talk”, the 2018 drama, because dad had “heard a lot about it on TV”. This isn’t a shocking reason for choosing anything and it was a welcome choice when we easily could’ve queued up any number of bad action films that were also present in Hulu’s movie library.
I am unsure if dad liked the film. As dads do, he took a smoke break during the sex scene, nodded in and out of consciousness, but otherwise paid some attention. Diane and I both enjoyed it, however.
“If Beale Street Could Talk” follows Tish (played by KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), two young African Americans who grew up together, fall in love, and have an unplanned baby while Fonny is falsely imprisoned. Unfortunately, it is a uniquely American story and one worth hearing. Despite the charges against Fonny being flimsy at best, there is little they can do to fight against the American justice system.
The story was moving enough on its own. Throughout, I wanted Tish and Fonny to be together. Interspersing the horrible present with moments of their past happiness only heightened that want and made plainer the horror of their situation. Even with a realistic, albeit happy ending, “Beale Street” is a hard film to watch with a lot of terrible things happening to good people.
The story may have felt tired (although it has a social conscious motive that should never be ignored) if not for the wonderful directing, acting, and editing. To me, “Beale Street” felt every bit as good as a film like “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” only without the baggage of being based on a play since being based on a book means the characters can go places and do things outside the confines of a one-room set.
Similar to “Cat” and movies like it, “If Beale Street Could Talk” focuses on dialogue and relationships between characters. Every performance sells each well-written line with the utmost respect that each deserves. The close-ups on the actors faces and their emotions punctuates each scene. It was a deeply moving film and one I hope not to forget. Barry Jenkins, the film’s director, did a phenomenal job.
Diane and I shared a favorite scene. Early on, when Tish reveals to Fonny’s family that she is pregnant (this occurs after Fonny is already in jail), the way everyone acts and reacts was so familiar to some of the same people I grew up with and around. Fonny’s mother is deeply religious and she is immediately offended. She thinks the baby is born to sin and a proof to her belief that Tish is a bad influence on her son. As Fonny’s two sisters share their mother’s distaste, two dads celebrate, and Tish’s sister jumps in to protect her little sister’s honor, the scene plays out in chaos and fury. It was as well-executed as it was hard to watch.
And that’s true of the whole film, not just that one scene. Everyone, and I mean everyone, brought their A-game for this one. Even the smaller roles for actors I did not expect to see were heartbreaking, especially Brian Tyree Henry as Fozzy’s friend who is suffering from his recent stint in prison. They even managed to get a non-distracting performance from Dave Franco!
“If Beale Street Could Talk” is a wonderful, fantastic movie. It’s exciting and beautiful and terrifying all the same. I hope to see more of its leads, and I wish to see less truth in the reality the film reflected. Until then, movies like this are what we all need to be watching.