If Beale Street Could Talk, directed by Barry Jenkins, 2018.

A young couple in love struggle when the young man is sent to jail for a crime he did not commit. Tish, the girl, has a supportive family that goes to great lengths to help his release. Racist police,  potentially insane victim, and delayed court dates conspire against them.  

Kiki Layne is Tish

The cast is beautiful. Kiki Layne has a an unlined face that draws you in with her searching eyes. Stephan James is lovely to gaze at. Regina King as Mrs. Rivers, Tish’s mother, deserves more leading roles.

The story dips in and out of the conventional romance disrupted by racial injustice. At times the camera slows down, and just wants you to watch the love making, or a slow gaze. This can be satisfying for the first hour, but by the time the movie is over, an uneven rhythm especially reliant on violins and back lighting makes some of the repetitive pieces of the story irritating.

Visually though you cannot fault the photography, or the costuming, or the sets, which carefully construct a mood of soulful longing for a simple life with an apartment big enough for the two lovers to inhabit, and create their own family. That goal is derailed by the racist police action against Fonny, told in flashback scenes. The two lovers have a purity of heart that somehow promises to get them through, though many obstacles block their way.

Fonny speaking to Tish in jail

The movie is dedicated to Jimmy, James Baldwin, the writer of the novel the movie is based on. Baldwin’s story is full of love, and hope, and injustice, as is the movie.  The love and hope come not only in the form of the young people, but of Tish’s parents, how willing they are to take all kinds of risks to save their children, and give their grandchild a chance.


About Patricia Markert

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