If Beale Street Cold Talk, adapted for the screen and directed by Barry Jenkins, is a film that at times was overwhelmingly beautiful and captured my every ounce of care and attention. But it was also a film that felt bogged down by a plot that I hoped would pay off, but ultimately felt weak and pointless. There’s much to be said about Jenkins and his new film, so let’s not waste any more time with this intro, and instead get into all there is to write and talk about.
Based upon the book written by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could talk explores the troubled journey of a couple living in Harlem. Tish Rivers – played by KiKi Layne – has recently found out she’s pregnant, which should be cause for celebration, but her fiancé, Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt – played by Stephan James – has recently been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Tish fights to have Fonny freed, but the odds are not in their favour.
If Beale Street Could talk is absolutely at its best when the full focus of the camera, the scene and the story is on its two main characters and their relationship. There’s an incredible level of intimacy when it comes to the handling of Tish and Fonny, and that intimacy not only comes from the exploration of their developing relationship, but also in how Jenkins as a director cinematically focuses on them.
There were so many times where I got completely enveloped by the intimate little character exchanges between Tish and Fonny or between Fonny and his friend Daniel – played by Brian Tyree Henry – and for me those experiences of getting completely lost in the deeply meaningful and deeply engaging dialogue were moments that strengthened why I adore Jenkins as a director and why I find myself so eager to see whatever he may do next. It all started with Moonlight which was a cinematic experience that was truly something special. It’s one I still think about to this day. If Beale Street Could Talk isn’t on the same level as Moonlight unfortunately, but I always knew that trying to follow-up a film like that and have it compare, would be a task near impossible to achieve.
Don’t get me wrong though, I still fell completely in love with the relationships on-screen and I fell deeper in love with how Jenkins went about so delicately exploring them. It all comes from the rich barrages of dialogue that is shared between characters. You’ll often sit there and let the joy or the madness of the dialogue exchanges take over your every bit of attention. You disappear into the words and the unsaid exchanges that elevate what they say. It’s all about people and the way people are with one another and this is something Jenkins is unmatched at doing when there’s a camera around.
There’s an authenticity to the way he presents people and life in his films. It doesn’t feel like you’re just watching a movie, rather it’s like you’re actually peering into the lives of fully realised individuals and being treated to a little taste of their poignant stories and beautiful exchanges of love. It’s similar to the experience I had recently when watching ‘Roma’ and how it brought the characters and their stories to life on-screen, though it had one aspect that If Beale Street Could Talk sadly wasn’t able to approach in a fulfilling way.
You see, while I got completely lost in the relationship of the characters and always made sure to soak up every beautifully crafted moment between them, the film began to lose me with its focus would solely look upon its primary plot. I found myself becoming more and more disinterested in the film’s main plot, until it caused me to lose my eagerness to keep engaging with the film.
The primary plot of the film was one that I never found myself ever invested in. It’s primarily because in the moments where the film focused on it, it was as if the film reverted back to just being like any other movie. The dialogue felt stale and was full of conversations that didn’t have the same kind of weight or heart that the more meaningful interactions between Tish and Fonny did when they first got together. It felt like more of a distraction that anything else. The more it cut back to it and the more it became the primary focus of the film, the less I found myself enjoying my time with the film, and the less I wanted to invest my attention in it.
What was then really quite frustrating is after all the focus and the time taken up by the plot, it ultimately didn’t feel like it went anywhere. The payoff was extremely weak, and the time spent on it felt like such a waste. The film could have easily just been about the relationship between Fonny and Tish and the trials and troubles they faced in the beginning and the film would have been a far more enchanting, magical experience. It didn’t need to pull the film in two directions, it didn’t need to have a more structured plot that made things feel less like a heart-warming journey and more like any other film. It could have stuck to the simplicity of a relationship and saved the film from becoming drawn out and frankly a little dull.
If Beale Street Could talk really felt like it was going somewhere wonderful in the beginning. I thought it was going to be a strong follow-up from a director who I think is one of the most exciting upcoming talents in Hollywood right now, but the more it went on and the more it pulled away from what I felt was it’s strongest and most engaging elements, the more I found myself losing interest in the film, and it culminated with me leaving the cinema after the film had finished and feeling a depressing wave of disappointment.
I do want to stress that Barry Jenkins is still a special talent working right now and I think he’s going to deliver some truly special experiences during a career that’s only just getting started. Sadly, his second outing on the big screen left a lot to be desired, but what it still did show to me is that Jenkins is a director with an incredible eye for relationships and humanity and he’s going to use the medium of film to deliver some truly unforgettable experiences… and I can’t wait!
When it comes to my recommendation, I’m unsure. I know if this film will capture people the same way Moonlight did, and I don’t know if what this film offers is something that would engage an audience, because of how stretched out and unfocused the film feels. Honestly, I think this might be one that people wait and maybe watch when it shows up on your preferred streaming service. I don’t think it’s one for rushing out to the cinema for, which is a shame, but it’s the way I feel unfortunately.
What did you think of Jenkins’ new film and my review of it? Let me know in the comments section down below. I now don’t just write about films but I also talk about them on my new podcast, ‘The Meandering Movie Podcast’. You can find out more information by following us on Twitter – @MeanderingPod – and you can find us on iTunes (https:/apple.co/2FUkAhU) Soundcloud (ttps://bit.ly/2S4sMm6) and the Castbox app. Check us out, share, listen and enjoy. Thanks so much for stopping by and I hope to see you return for more of my ramblings.