“If Beale Street Could Talk”
Release Date: December 25, 2018 (USA wide release)
Running Time: 119 mins
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Kiki Layne
“If Beale Street Could Talk” is based on the novel of the same name written by civil rights icon and great American author James Baldwin. It is a story of love––a love interrupted by gross injustice, but a love which prevails nonetheless. It is a story of hope in times of heartache and hardship.
“Beale Street” is directed and written for the screen by Barry Jenkins. Jenkins was largely unknown three years ago, but his 2016 film “Moonlight” left critics in awe of his talent. Jenkins won an Oscar for writing the screenplay to that film, and “Moonlight” went on to win the coveted Best Picture award, following a brief few moments in which “La La Land” was thought to be the winner due to a mix-up.
The way in which Jenkins uses color in his films is mesmerizing. I felt this way after seeing the deep blues he used in “Moonlight,” and “Beale Street” is further proof of his talent. The yellows, greens and oranges, which permeate this film, had me visually interested from beginning to end.
Many of the beautiful colors in the film come from the clothing worn by the characters. I usually do not pay much attention to costume design in movies, but it is so exemplary here that I could not help but notice. Not only do the costumes effectively emulate the 1970s, the time period in which the film is set, but it also serves a symbolic purpose.
Jenkins excels as director and as a screenwriter as well. It certainly helps to have the work of a master of the English language like Baldwin to go off of, but adapting a novel to the screen is not simply a matter of copy and pasting. Jenkins rearranges Baldwin’s text to make it flow better as a film. He chooses to tell the story in a non-chronological fashion. This was a smart choice because otherwise the entire first half of the movie would have had a joyous and romantic atmosphere, while the second half would be emotionally devastating. It still would have worked, but this way there is not a sudden tonal spike. It also makes the story more intriguing, as the audience is left wondering how things got from one place to the next.
All of the performances in “Beale Street” are superb. These characters are already infused with personality and likeability by the script, but the excellent performances by the talented cast elevate things even further. The actors and actresses make their characters feel unbearably real. Perhaps the most affecting performance comes from Regina King. She is given the most emotional scene in the film, and the persistence to fight for a hopeless cause out of nothing but love is ultra-believable and stunningly human.
The musical score from Nicholas Littrell is outstanding. Littrell predominantly uses strings (mostly cello and violin), but these are interspersed with brass and piano. It is beautiful and enhances the blissfully romantic scenes as well as the moments of pain and heartache, and everything in between.
My issues with this film are incredibly minimal. “Beale Street” employs narration at certain points throughout. Unlike some critics, I do not believe that using narration in films is always a bad idea. I do, however, believe it should be used sparingly. While I do think some bits of narration could have been cut, my biggest problem was the poor sound mixing whenever the disembodied voice of the narrator came in. It just sounded unnatural, and in a movie which feels so incredibly realistic, that was distracting to me.
I really have no other complaints to speak of. This was an amazing film which cemented Barry Jenkins as one of the most visionary directors of his time.
Drew Eckhart is a sophomore history and pre-law major from Edmond, OK. He has loved movies for as long as he can remember but thinks his passion really began when he watched “The Dark Knight” for the first time in theaters. His favorite type of movie blends comedy and drama seamlessly, and he loves great action films. In Drew’s free time, he enjoys reading and playing video games, as well as watching TV and movies. His favorite TV show is “BoJack Horseman” and his favorite movie is “Whiplash.”