Barry Jenkins’ follow up to the Oscar-winning Moonlight was sure to attract a lot of attention. Acting as an adaptation of the 1974 James Baldwin novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk had plenty to live up to. Yet, in the hands of Jenkins, it exceeded those expectations with flying colors. And it seems to have been done almost effortlessly.
Taking place in New York City during the 1970s, If Beale Street Could Talk inspects the relationship of Tish and Fonny, and how they cope with the unfortunate obstacles they face. Whether it be unexpected pregnancies or unlawful imprisonments, the world around these characters seems to be fighting their love at every turn. Jenkins, however, can paint a different picture of the power of pure devotion.
Some events in the film are truly hideous. It could be the cruel injustices police officers carry out that make the audience wince. Perhaps it’s the racial judgments placed upon a couple simply looking for apartments. Some actions don’t even have to be on screen to illustrate the absolute horrors. Brian Tyree Henry has a brief, but haunting role in the film, that paints a picture more vivid than anything that is shown. Even the final shot of the film is profoundly upsetting and utterly heartbreaking at face value. However, there is hope deep within it. It’s something that can clearly be held onto. Through all the harsh realities Jenkins presents in the film, there is always an undeniable beauty to dissect from the frame. Through the love Tish and Fonny have for one another, nothing can stand in their way.
This love is exemplified masterfully by Jenkins and the cast. Extreme close-ups are used countless times throughout If Beale Street Could Talk, and each one feels extremely personal. With them, Jenkins organically immerses the viewer into the lives of these characters in such a poetic and nuanced manner. And the love that the young couple has for each other is not all that is displayed. Familial bonds are shown to be tested and proven, and how they react to the events surrounding Tish and Fonny is crucial to further understanding that love cannot be beaten.
Regina King, who perfectly encapsulates what it means to be a caring mother, is willing to travel to the ends of the earth for her child. When Fonny works on his sculptures, it can only be described as observing a dream-like state of passion. Jenkins is able to pull these ethereal moments out of everyday life, while always remaining grounded in the world he is filming. And perhaps the most crucial element of this whimsical aura is the film score.
Composed by Nicholas Britell of Moonlight fame, this score is bound to draw attention from major awards. Full of horns and strings, the lavish music effortlessly meshes with the sounds of the ’70s — the emotion emanating from the characters bursts into life before the eyes and ears of the viewer. It works as a brilliant companion piece to the film as a whole, and once again reaffirms the notion of Jenkins’ attempt to showcase a dreamy story based in a bitter reality. And this reality is something that cannot be glossed over.
What is most upsetting about this story is its relevancy. For a novel written in the 1970s, it’s painful to observe how similar the injustices are in today’s society. Yet, as unfortunate as this is, it can be related to the theme of the film. There are ugly moments in history, and many can never be forgiven or forgotten. However, an attempt at overcoming those occasions with love and affection, regardless of the outcome, is pivotal. It will provide a sense of hope, and no matter how large or small, it is always necessary. If Beale Street could talk, it seems that it too would declare hope and love is all a person needs to thrive.
Does Barry Jenkins have another Best Picture coming his way? What did you think of the film? Let us know in the comments below!
If Beale Street Could Talk opens in theaters December 25.