The Photograph is a drama about Michael, a reporter, who is writing a story about the environmental impacts of an oil spill, but changes his perspective when he sees a photograph of Christina. This leads him back to New York and Christina's daughter Mae. The love affair between Michael and Mae is passionate, but can't last as Mae discovers more about her mother and Michael contemplates a big life change. The film stars LaKeith Stanfield, Issa Rae, Rob Morgan, Chante Adams, Y'lan Noel, Lil Rel Howrey, Teyonah Parris, Kelvin Harison, Jr., Jasmine Cephas Jones, Chelsea Peretti, and Courtney B. Vance. It is written and directed by Stella Meghie.
Romantic dramas can get caught up in the melodrama of the situation. They can make mountains out of mole hills. Yet, The Photograph never feels overwrought or over the top. There are no scenes crying in the rain while looking out a window, or shouting at each other over little things. The Photograph feels far more natural, far more practical. Don't get me wrong, I live for ridiculous on screen drama, but it's incredibly refreshing to see a film go a different way with a completely different point of view.
I think this new perspective is thanks in a big part to Stella Meghie's fantastic script and assured direction. She lingers where others would cut away. She lets silence fill the screen where others would fill that space with words or noise. Her characters feel so realized and three dimensional. In the way she and cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard move the camera, we follow these characters like a ghost, we see them in their habits and we float around them without corporeal form so they can just be themselves and it works so beautifully.
This ethereal, corporeal feeling is compounded with Robert Glasper's phenomenal score. It's a smooth sound that's never intrusive. It's like if a silky warmth were to wash over your body and then never leave you. It's tight and it's never forcing an emotion on us as viewers. Just as the film's story gives us a new way to think about character, the music gives us excellent new cues for the character's emotions.
Where the movie lost me a little is in the grand love scene. I don't need hardcore, R-rated sexiness, of course, but it felt kind of clammy and lukewarm. This is in comparisson to the obvious chemistry of the leads. Stanfield and Rae are both very sexy, but the looks they were giving each other and the movements of their bodies just weren't clicking for me. Maybe I missed some of the subtext in the midst of it that would explain the coldness.
Like I wrote, though, the chemistry between the two actors is fantastic. This whole cast is truly remarkable. There's no one I want to watch more than Rob Morgan having an emotional revelation. His face is incredibly expressive and he can add just the right amount of rasp to his voice. Yet, the actress that steals the show is Chante Adams.
I loved Adams' starring role in Netflix's Roxanne Roxanne and in The Photograph, playing the young version of Mae's mother, Christina, Adams is so incredible. She lights up the screen with her smile and she is so powerful with just a sideways glance. Her moments of realization and defiance are impeccable. You will want to watch the cut of the film that's just her as I did.
The Photograph is one of the best romantic dramas I've seen. With its lyrical, natural dialogue and smooth style, it's one that should be at the top of your list this weekend. I immediately got home and looked up what Stella Meghie has done in previous years and what's next on her docket because I am all in on whatever she does. Go do yourself a favor and fall in love with The Photograph.