From Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk is the story of a young couple Tish (KiKi Layne) and Phonny (Stephan James). After Phonny is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, Tish reveals she is pregnant, only to face the ire of Phonny’s disapproving mother and the prospect of raising the child alone.
While on paper this is a story about a woman seeking justice for her husband, this is a relatively minor aspect of the film. So anyone expecting A Time to Kill, The Wrong Man or Minority Report, where proving innocence is the central element, will be sorely disappointed. In Beale Street injustice is shown as depressingly run-of-the-mill.
The non-linear storytelling makes it less about seeing what happens next and more about seeing the value in each individual scene. Each one is as compelling as the last as the beautifully written and acted drama encapsulates romance, rejection, family, religion, poverty, racism and trauma.
The jazz-infused soundtrack gives Damien Chezelle a run for his money and sets the atmosphere perfectly. The immaculate shot composition is matched by the bold costume choices. It’s a highly romantic film, but not in the sense of being idyllic or unrealistic. Instead in finds an authentic relationship between two people who have grown up together and are ready to overcome any difficulty.
If Beale Street Could Talk has unfathomably not nominated for Best Picture, (particularly surprising given some of the other nominees). But it does prove Jenkins is more than a one hit wonder, and promises further greatness to come.