Well it’s about time. Not gonna lie, a little sick of seeing this trailer.
The story looks like it’s about a woman who gets pregnant by her lover, who is about to go to prison, and faces a division among her family. Some supporting her, some against her.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Kiki Layne (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and upcoming films NATIVE SON  and CAPTIVE STATE ), Stephan James (RACE , and the upcoming 17 BRIDGES ), Regina King (MISS CONGENIALITY 2 , LEGALLY BLONDE 2 , and the upcoming ALL THE WAY WITH YOU ), and Michael Beach (DEEP BLUE SEA 2 , PATRIOTS DAY , and upcoming films AQUAMAN  and SUPERINTELLIGENCE ).
In support, we have Diego Luna (FLATLINERS , STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE , and upcoming films NAYA LEGEND OF THE GOLDEN DOLPHIN  and A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK ), Finn Wittrock (A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM , LA LA LAND , BIG SHORT , UNBROKEN , and upcoming films WRITE WHEN YOU GET WORK  and JUDY ), Ed Skrein (DEADPOOL , TRANSPORTER 4 , and upcoming films ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL  and MIDWAY ), and Brian Tyree Henry (SPIDER-MAN/SPIDER-VERSE , CROWN HEIGHTS , and upcoming films CHILD’S PLAY  and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Barry Jenkins, known for MOONLIGHT (2016). One of the producers is Brad Pitt, known for BEAUTIFUL BOY (2018), BRAD’S STATUS (2017), BIG SHORT, WORLD WAR Z (2013), and upcoming films VICE (2018) and AD ASTRA (2019). Composing the score is Nicholas Britell, known for BATTLE/SEXES (2017), FREE STATE OF JONES (2016), and the upcoming VICE. The cinematographer is James Laxton, known for YOGA HOSERS (2016) and TUSK (2014). Finally, the co-editors are Joi McMillon (MOONLIGHT) and Nat Sanders (GLASS CASTLE , MOONLIGHT, and the upcoming JUST MERCY ).
Overall, I’m a little skeptical. I respect the hell out of MOONLIGHT and legit consider it a great film, which had great writing, great acting, and great direction. I’m happy it won Best Picture of 2016 at the Oscars. But early ratings have me a little concerned with this latest outing. This movie started off with, like, a 6.7/10 on IMDb. Currently (as of 12/12/2018) the movie’s rating has gone up to a 7.0/10, which has me a little hopeful (usually the ratings go down on IMDb), but I don’t know. I want to love Jenkins’ work. I have pretty high hopes teetering on the side of caution.
This is my honest opinion of: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Set in Harlem, New York, the story follows a young loving couple, Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James). Fonny has recenty been sent to jail for allegedly raping a woman named Victoria Rogers (Emily Rios), which Fonny didn’t do. Victoria has fled the country back to Puerto Rico and no one else bore witness to the incident, except a racist cop, who insists that he saw Fonny flee the scene, which he didn’t. The law is against Fonny, but Tish is determined to see justice properly done.
And I’m disappointed. By no means a bad movie, but following the artistic success of MOONLIGHT, this was a bit of a letdown.
The primary problem that I had was that the movie was a bit confused. Based on the trailers, it basically looks like it’s a romance film where the families don’t like each other, and teases that Tish is going to be active in looking for a way to find evidence that will free Fonny. But nope… it’s mostly flashbacks to happier times when they were a couple. Going on dates, hanging out with friends, picking out a place to live, it’s… actually kind of boring. In fact, the imprisonment thing almost feels like it’s an afterthought. When it’s not actually telling the story that is promised us, the movie stops to show us a scene with Fonny and Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) talking about how “this country hates black people.” Well… now what is this movie about? Commentary about how black people are mistreated in America? Okay, don’t get me wrong, this is an issue. Every ethnic group has had a target on their backs and those white supremacists just love to take their shots. I won’t pretend this isn’t an issue. But for the love of God, how many times do we have to talk about it?! When can we stop talking about it and actually DO something about it?! When are these movies going to start offering solutions and bring forth new ideas? How are audiences being challenged by simply telling us, “We’re victims of hate.” I’m aware! How do you want me to help, movie?! These sections of the story feel so contrived and feel like they’re just saying something that audiences have collective heard over and over again, but nothing new is being said.
What’s strange though is that everything I described was just one scene. This commentary about black people being victims is barely played into again. Sure, we get a scene where Fonny fights off an obnoxious dude aggressively hitting on Tish, and that’s when we meet the asshole cop who would eventually go on to lie about seeing Fonny flee the scene of where Victoria was raped and being the reason why he’s in jail now, but again, that doesn’t seem to be the focus of the movie itself. It’s just touched upon. Glossed over. One would think the lawyer, Hayward (Finn) that these people are relying on to get Fonny out of prison would be a major player in the movie. But nope, he’s in two scenes. One where he basically says, “In order for me to help, I need more money.” He’s more sensitive than that, but that’s the gist of his conversation, and the second appearance is through a montage and he’s frustrated with the way these old white guys are so apathetic with things. And that’s it. He never makes another appearance again to offer any advice, either personal or legal.
Obviously, the movie isn’t all bad. There are some pretty damn good scenes too. Basically, everything revolving about Tish breaking the news to her family about her pregnancy. And this was early on, so I had some pretty high hopes going in. Tish’s mom and dad take it pretty well and establish themselves as practical, yet supportive parents, as well as a loving and supportive sister. Then Fonny’s family comes around and… well, things get both great and generic. The great stuff is when Tish comes out about her pregnancy, Fonny’s mom freaks out and via Christian babble curses the baby growing inside her, resulting in Fonny’s father smacking the woman in the face. Not that I ever excuse violence against a woman, but overzealous religious folk who use their beliefs to spread hate… violence against them will always be deliciously satisfying. In any case, there’s some venomous insults thrown back and forth, which is a lot of fun. But then it started to dawn on me. The reasons behind this family feud is way too thin. They come across like high society folks and their son is the black sheep that they still hold out can make something of his life, but will never do so because of his romance with Tish. I don’t know, this feels so… hollow. Like, couldn’t this have been better explained?
But I do admit that one of my favorite scenes is when Tish and Fonny are checking out an unfinished apartment building, owned by Levy, played by Dave Franco, who gives probably one of the best performances in the movie. By this point in the story, Fonny and Tish have had no luck in finding a place of their own, usually from jerks who think that Tish is single, but when she brings Fonny around, suddenly there’s a mistake in who gets it and kicks them out. Levy seems to be the only friendly white person. Fonny does that thing where he gets all excited about where a couch will go, where the refrigerator will be placed, all that good stuff. But he gets so into it, that he manages to charm Levy into helping him bring in invisible appliances. He’s clearly weirded out, but having fun as well. By the closure of this scene, he basically says that he’ll give them the room when it’s done, and when Fonny asks why he’s been so nice, Levy says a line that’s simple, yet so powerful: “I’m just my mother’s son.” By God, what a great line. In a single line, and the way that Franco delivers it, you know that boy had a proper raising. He doesn’t care about race, or any of that shit. He’s just a good dude looking out for a nice couple. That was a great scene. Loved it.
Overall, I was pretty underwhelmed by the movie. I know I ragged on it a lot more than praised it, but this movie does feel repetitive. What with BLINDSPOTTING, BLACKKKLANSMAN, MONSTERS AND MEN, THE HATE U GIVE, and a single scene from WIDOWS, racially charged movies are losing their momentum. Like the movies just mentioned, it doesn’t do anything particularly new. It doesn’t shed light on a new problem, doesn’t offer a solution to older problems, it just seems to be all about addressing the problem, not doing anything with it. I can’t say that this is a bad movie, but it’s repetitive of a lot of movies like this out of this year alone. Hey, if you think this movie is great, don’t let me tell you otherwise. If you got more out of this than I did, then by all means, don’t let anyone take that away from you. But as for me, I’ve seen better films and I’ve seen more challenging films. As a recommendation, meh, most sources are citing this as a good movie. RottenTomatoes currently as it in the 90s and IMDb’s score seems to only go up, so it must be doing something right. Take that for what it’s worth.
My honest rating for IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: 3/5
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