There is something to be said for letting a story breathe and develop in it’s own time. There is no hurried pace to If Beale Street Could Talk. It doesn’t feel the need to rush through to get to the more dramatic or arguably important parts of the story. There are moments which have a more lasting and meaningful impact compared to the rest but it is because Beale Street takes it’s time telling the core of tale, that make these moments matter so much more.
That core is the love story between KiKi Layne’s Tish and Stephan James’ Fonny. It is one of the better love stories realised on-screen. It feels real and genuine and you don’t have two character thrust together, telling the audience that they are in-love and leaving us to fill in the gaps of their connection. The chemistry between Layne and James is genuine and you see how their relationships strengthen, through bumpy confrontations, intimate confessions and a lovely scene where Fonny manages to convince Tish to rent a flat based purely on their dreams and imagination.
The story wouldn’t have worked if it hadn’t been for how genuine these two feel because for most of the developing moments of the film, they are apart. Fozzy is placed in prison for a crime it seems clear he didn’t commit and Tish, with those around her, are desperate to see him out and for justice to prevail. The film jumps from the story of their relationship and the events before he was arrested to the moments of sweat and tears trying to get him out. It is written so expertly as you get just enough of the key facts from the flashbacks to help piece together what is happening in the present and each flashback effectively builds on the central relationship so even the audience are desperate to see Fozzy released.
Which is when those key, dramatic scenes work their best. From family revelations, to a confrontation in Puerto Rico through to the cold, stark ending of the story: these are the moments which work best and help keep the audience invested. These are the moments when you are hoping all the key elements click into place for our characters. This is “real-life” though and there is a stark, underlying message to Beale Street which is clear from the beginning. It tells a familiar tale of the oppressive system and broken, unfair justice in America and it does so effectively. You may not be happy with the outcome but it will stay with you for a while afterwards.
Overall, If Beale Street Could Talk holds all it’s strength in the effective central romance and the fight this couple must go through. The storytelling is effective and manages to help create a story which you become invested in. Great performances and a realistic chemistry mean that the moments that matter hit hard when it counts.
Rating – 4
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