Film Extra – If Beale Street Could Talk


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Now that the Academy Awards are done and dusted, we feel that attention may well have rightly been accorded to a film which otherwise may have slipped under the radar. We’re talking about ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, which saw Regina King win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. as well as the film gaining nominations in two other categories (Best Original Score and Best Adapted Screenplay).

Tom Steckler explains why this is such a stand-out film.

(Images used with permission EPK / Annapurna Pictures)

Very rarely is there a case where there are films that are so well crafted in terms of not only humanising its narratives, but take the audience through what is essentially such a harrowing journey of how bonds are tested with the most realistic of emotion, conflicts, decisions. ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, however, manages to capture the harrows of love and romance within the face of societal pitfalls with an element of care and delicacy that makes it one of the most poignantly beautiful films to have been released this century.

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ follows a non-linear structure of unfolding the coming-of-age between Clementine ‘Tish’ Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alfonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James), chronicling the events around Alfonzo’s arrest on suspicion of a sexual assault. and culminating in a period of reflection for Clementine and the audience to prove his innocence.

(L-R: Teyonah Parris, KiKi Layne and Regina King. Annapurna Pictures)

What is perhaps most breath-taking about Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece is how just about every element crafted within this film is true to life and grounded in a realm of reality and belief that is almost unheard of within the craft of filmmaking.
Its depiction of the pitfalls that come with class differences, family dynamics, religion and more are expertly blended which make every character feel fierce and experienced but more importantly, they’ve been brought even further into life than the ground of mainstream Hollywood could ever afford to capture, however good their films can be.

The clear standout character is Sharon Rivers (Regina King).

She’s the perfect blend of a mother with wit and wisdom, taking the audience through almost all the emotions surrounded by such a conflicted mind in the face of one of the most difficult situations not only a mother but a woman can be faced with. That is not too say that there is nobody else memorable within the film- everybody performs commendably and fills their purpose within what is such a tightly-knit unit.

(Director Barry Jenkins and KiKi Layne on the set. Annapurna Pictures)

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is perhaps as true to life as could possibly be achieved within the realm of filmmaking. Almost every realistic emotion and character journey you could expect from a film of this nature is explored all the way throughout. We would feel every emotion at some point throughout the film- triumph, envy, sadness…

More importantly, the film is not only a journey into the core of Tish and Fonny’s characters, but our own as well, making us reflect into our own adventure until this point with our own loved ones and that is perhaps one of the best things about a film, when it is so accurate that we are able to compare it to our own life and how the film is a walking statement for how the human mind works.

(Emily Rios stars as Victoria Rogers. Annapurna Pictures)

A particular standout within the film’s beauty is that of the cinematography of James Laxton, perfectly blending the elegant use of both visual and colour in order to deliver to us what is a very beautiful looking film. New York City looks like the city that is full of hope even within its dark streets and dingy alleyways, there is always a beam of light that Tish and Fonny can see throughout the film.

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ is easily one of the most poignant films to have been released in our decade. It is an outlook on two people and the stepping stones they have to take to navigate what is a very judgmental and unfair world and just about everything in it, however right or wrong they were, made complete sense.

By the end of it, I felt particularly moved by the fact that I felt like I was watching a true story unfold in front of my eyes. What it was instead, was a tale just as beautiful and true to life as one.

Tom Steckler