If Beale Street Could Talk is the most beautifully intimate film of 2018. Director Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his award-winning film Moonlight holds up to that movie’s weight, adapting James Baldwin’s story of the same name that still powerfully resonates.
Set in Harlem in the early 1970s, we follow Tish and Fonny’s relationship; the childhood friends turned lovers have their lives flipped upside down when Fonny is incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. But with the help of family, Tish discovers her true strength after revealing she’s with child. We were lucky to have seen so many creative contributions to black cinema in 2018, but Beale Street is a remarkable cut amongst the rest.
This movie would’ve been nothing without flawless performances, and no, there is not one weak actor in the lot. At the forefront, Kiki Layne and Stephan James are revelations as Tish and Fonny. Every conversation they have is layered, bestowing an incredible level of affection or, at turns, frustration, anxiety and longing. They’re captivating. Regina King as Tish’s mother deserves every single award imaginable. She takes command during every scene, her power shining through the camera lens like the sun. Some familiar faces pop up along the way as well, like Diego Luna, Dave Franco and Game of Thrones alums Pedro Pascal and Ed Skrein.
It’s hard to tell what Jenkins’ best quality is as a filmmaker, as both his eye and language approach perfection. Every moment is rich with emotion, lighting and depth, practically demanding you savor them. Every one of Jenkins’ collaborators gives their all, from the cinematographer, production designer and sound designer—a scene of anger poetically drowns background noise for weight, only to raise that volume subtlety once the moment passes—to composer Nicholas Britell. Britell, who scored Moonlight, brings yet another intensely moving score, dramatically raising the bar for every other composer in
Hollywood.
Thus, Beale Street is rich with atmosphere, seamlessly including real-life photographs of
racial strife in New York City in the ’70s. It simultaneously enriches the personal drama, and makes the viewer acknowledge that this singular story is part of a much bigger and more tragic narrative. Beale Street is a stark reflection of racial tension, but also a celebration of what makes family so important in everyday life. You are wholeheartedly dared to watch this film and leave with dry eyes. You won’t be able to pull it off.

10

+Gorgeous performances, language, music, cinematography and production design
-Absolutely nothing

If Beale Street Could Talk
Directed by Jenkins
With Layne, James and King
Violet Crown, R, 119 min.