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The Best Movies on Netflix (2023) 1. If Beale Street Could Talk


Luna Ramsay

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Year: 2018
Director: Barry Jenkins
Stars: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Michael Beach, Teyonah Pariss, Aunjanue Ellis
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

 

Time for our characters elliptical, and the love story between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) the rhythm we’ll return to over and over. As our narrator, Tish speaks in both curt statements and koans, Barry Jenkins’ screenplay translating James Baldwin’s novel as an oneiric bit of voyeurism: When the two finally consummate their relationship after a lifetime (barely two decades) of friendship between them and their families, the mood is divine and revelatory. Do people actually have sex like that? God no, but maybe we wish we did? And sometimes we convince ourselves we have, with the right person, just two bodies alone, against the world, in a space—maybe the only space—of their own. The couple’s story is simple and not: A cop (Ed Skrein) with a petty score to settle against Fonny connives a Puerto Rican woman (Emily Rios) who was raped to pick Fonny out of a lineup, even though his alibi and all evidence suggests otherwise. In the film’s first scene, we watch Tish visit Fonny in jail to tell him that she’s pregnant. He’s ecstatic; we immediately recognize that unique alchemy of terror and joy that accompanies any new parent, but we also know that for a young black couple, the world is bent against their love thriving. “I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass,” Tish says. Do they hope? James and Layne’s performances, so wondrously in sync, suggest they must, one flesh with no other choice. As Tish’s mother, Regina King perhaps best understands the wickedness of that hope, playing Sharon as a woman who can’t quite get what she wants, but who seems to intuit that such progress may be further than most in her situation. Beleaguered but undaunted, she’s the film’s matriarch, a force of such warmth that, even in our fear watching as Tish’s belly grows and her hope wanes, Sharon’s presence reassures us—not that everything will be alright, but that everything will be. The end of If Beale Street Could Talk is practically a given—unless your ignorance guides you throughout this idiotic world—but there is still love in those final moments, as much love as there was in the film’s symmetrical opening. There’s hope in that, however pathetically little. —Dom Sinacola

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