NYFF Review! If Beale Street Could Talk – James Baldwin’s Masterpiece Comes To Screen!By Caroline Cao | October 18, 2018 | Entertainment
After the intimate and riveting bildungsroman Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk is the latest masterpiece of Oscar-winning director and writer Barry Jenkins. Adapted from the 1974 James Baldwin novel, If Beale Street Could Talk is an equal parts wistful elegy to what-could-have-beens and celebration of communal bonds.
A 19-year-old African-American Harlem woman, Tish (played by KiKi Layne), seeks to clear the name of her fiancée Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James), who was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit by a vengeful white policeman. As Tish ruminates on her burgeoning intimacy with Fonny, she and her family must act to free him before the birth of their child. Even for a scenario with a rather urgent conflict, the film is paced breezily as Tish contemplates on the highs and lows she survived with Fonny.
It dances delicately from casual comfort to abject testimonial dread, particularly when Fonny’s friend divulges a chilling horror story about incarceration and the room goes dead still before all enlivens into joviality when the conversation is interrupted. In her family circles, institutionalized attitudes can creep in, even loved ones unwittingly perpetuate it through arguments of culpability.
With cinematography by James Laxton, the movie achieves vibrancy that balances out the grime of the story. When Tish stares soulfully into Fonny’s eyes, or into the eyes of the viewer, you feel her pierce through the screen, suggesting a great depth of love that even her words cannot comprehend. There are tragic turns for the two lovers but never does their story become a tragedy.
Caroline Cao is a screenwriter, playwright, poet, and film critic studying for her Nonfiction MFA at the New School. She has contributed to Birth Movies Death, Film School Rejects, The Mary Sue, Bitch, and Reverse Shot. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram: @maximinalist