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If Beale Street Could Talk

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

Accepting her Golden Globe as best supporting actress for "If Beale Street Could Talk," Regina King urged viewers to watch the movie. Her hope reflects the fact that despite its prestigious credentials, Beale Street struggles in theaters. Rather than arrive with box office guarantees from main characters who wear capes and masks, Beale Street comes with distinct voices from its two main creators, one a director and the other an author--both known for tackling difficult subjects.

Director Barry Jenkins showed his stunning visual style two years ago with Moonlight, which won the Oscar as best picture. Much earlier, writer James Baldwin made his name as an eloquent critic of social inequities. His 1974 novel "If Beale Street Could Talk" fits this motif as a family deals with the arrest of an innocent man. Both writer and director feel outrage but express it with beauty and a poetic sensibility. They tell the story of young lovers torn apart by a racist system. With no DNA testing to prove a young man innocent of a rape charge, his family must find a myriad of ways to free him. Strength, dedication and abiding love resonate from the various members, giving the movie its emotional resonance.

These emotional highlights from author Baldwin include the insightful refusal to make nice and provide a package neatly wrapped with a happy ending. Told more in the form of vignettes than linear story-telling, the story of "If Beale Street Could Talk" suits Director Jenkins, who follows the look of his "Moonlight" movie by using many static closeups and elongated musical notes. This style means nothing happens with breakneck speed, so the project draws much of its appeal from carefully composed imagery. It also stands apart with performers chosen for both the right looks and skill.

The actors across the board bring family dynamics to life, catching both large, passionate feelings and smaller nuanced ones. As in "Moonlight," many sequences from "If Beale Street Could Talk" linger long after viewing, standing apart with heartfelt love and caring.


This review was originally aired on 1/18/2019.

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