If Beale Street Could Talk: Remember, love is what brought you here... | Review

by - Tuesday, January 22, 2019


I first saw Barry Jenkins' beautiful adaptation of James Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk at London Film Festival this past October and it has taken me nearly 4 months to piece together words that even now feel they can't do justice to what I believe was one of the best films of the festival.

The story plays with time wonderfully, jumping back and forth between present and past to piece together the central narrative of Tish and Fonny's blossoming relationship before Fonny is put in prison after being falsely accused of rape. During his prison sentence, Tish discovers she is pregnant and her and her family get to work to prove his innocence.

James Laxton, who also shot Jenkins' Oscar winning Moonlight, returned to create a muddle of the utopia and dystopia the two central characters found in their little piece of Manhattan. Jenkins and Laxton have a wonderful way of making the unextraordinary meet the extraordinary in little stories coming out of big cities. It feels like magic, like a dream that's gone wrong yet is still full of soul and light. Jenkins makes an editorial choice by contrasting the colour in Tish and Fonny's life against distressing monochrome images of black people suffering throughout history, Tish and Fonny meet their own distress in Officer Bell but they refuse to let it remove the colour from their relationship. It fuels them further and pushes them deeper into their romance.

There's an ache that oozes from the words Barry Jenkins pens from James Baldwin's novel. "We got all the time in the world" Fonny says the first time they make love and yet he has no idea that he's so close to the freedom being cut short. We, the audience, do know and it makes that moment much more bittersweet. We want to savour that time with them, we dream with them, we forget briefly that tragedy is looming in that romantic candlelight.

There's an ominous hero in this story and it is not a character, it is Nicholas Britell's masterpiece of a score. I cannot express how the notes of each song hits a part of my heart that instantly chokes me up. The first time I saw the trailer in a cinema since seeing the film months prior tears instantly filled my eyes because I could see the placement of Eden (Harlem), the opening song that waves through as the two take their place in their own version of the Garden of Eden. Harlem is their paradise. It is where they fall in love. It is where they "sin". The story is biblical. Fonny's mother is deeply religious and so by her terms, their child is born of sin and Fonny must pay for it in prison whilst Tish pays by struggling against a system that so desperately wants them to fail but it allows them to win in their own unique way.

Beale Street is bleak and sad but beautiful and poetic in a way that only Barry Jenkins has the sensitivity to get away with. I believe and root for the story because at the heart it comes from him. He cares what happens to Tish and Fonny and so we do, too, and paired with the wonderful performances from everyone involved, it is hard not to fall in love alongside them.

Remember, love is what brought you here...




If Beale Street Could Talk comes to UK cinemas 8th February 2019.

Until next time

Treat yourself to the beauty of Nicholas Britell's glorious score...


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