If Beale Street Could Talk is an adaptation of the James Baldwin novel of the same name. It's about a young couple who are just starting their lives together as Fonny, played by Stephan James, is arrested for a crime he didn't commit and Tish, played by Kiki Layne, has to figure out how to get him out while pregnant with their child. The film also stars Regina King and Colman Domingo as Tish's parents and it is written and directed by Barry Jenkins.
I mention the author of the original work above because if If Beale Street Could Talk is able to do anything it is able to provide a nearly perfect adaptation of the novel with the interior thoughts of the characters in tact and on the screen. How could this possibly be accomplished? Faces.
Barry Jenkins captures the faces of each character so beautifully. We can see every small change in emotion, the big swings in mood, the shyness, the happiness, the sadness of every character as they look right at us in the frame. A disconcerting trope in any other film becomes an essential emotional and intimate connection between these characters and we, the audience.
The vibrancy of the color pallet is only enhanced by a musical score that enriches every scene and sometimes punctuates the feeling we get from these characters and this harsh world they're in. The camera and the music flow simultaneously and create a lush combination of sight and sound that is entrancing.
Those moments of beauty and delight make the darker side of the film that much more impactful. Racism, the grim specter at the heart of the American experience and history, is all too real to every one of these characters. Whether it's Fonny's encounter with a white policeman, the stories of Tish and Fonny's attempts to find a place to live, the tragic story of Daniel, Fonny's friend, who spent two years in jail for a crime he didn't commit, or Tish's experiences at the perfume counter in the department store where she works. Every scene is a reminder of the system designed to keep people of color from succeeding.
The performances are impeccable, but the far and away stand out is Regina King as Sharon. She keeps the peace, but pounces if someone attacks her family. She does everything possible to be there for her daughters and the man who has always been like a son to her. She's the core of strength for Tish and she shines over the whole film.
If Beale Street Could Talk is a spectacular follow up to Barry Jenkins' Moonlight. It is a superb family drama that doesn't get bogged down, but presents the facts with an ending that hurts, but is very real for these circumstances. I hope everyone will go out and fall in love with these characters and this gorgeous film.