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If Beale Street Could Talk: Based on book by James Baldwin [Review]

If Beale Street Could Talk based on the book by James Baldwin, is a lovely, lyrical movie about two people in love. The fact that they are black, and living in the racist America of the early 1960's is the backdrop that makes all the difference in their young lives.

“I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass.”

 Alonzo (Fonny) played by the amazing Stephan James—I've been raving about James since seeing him opposite Julia Roberts in Homecoming— is the young man falsely accused of rape. Kiki Layne is Tish, pregnant with his child. Told in alternating time periods—their coming together and falling in love vs Fonny behind bars, director Richard Jenkins uses each to emphasize the other, painting rich portraits of characters who have often been little more than stereotypes and caricatures: the black man locked up for rape, the young black girl an unwed mother. 

What is profoundly moving about the film is that the couple, who have been best friends since they were babies, show us the depth of their love. Beyond their affection, their deeply physical desire, is the way they provide sanctuary for each other. The idea of you and me against the world is the heartbeat of the movie, an idea that all couples of longevity understand, but one that really resonates when you consider all the hate and prejudice thrown at black people throughout history, and that continues still. You've really got to lean into and against each other to survive all that. 

Regina Ward won the Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress award for playing Tish's mother and the script has been nominated for a BAFTA in the adapted screenplay category. The music by Nicholas Brittel is gorgeous, the cinematography too, and director Barry Jenkins (who won last year's Best Picture Oscar for Moonlight) isn't afraid to have that camera linger and linger on James' and Layne's faces. As much as James Baldwin's words matter, here the essence of their love is their eyes and we see every ounce of it. 

The film will be too slow for some but I loved it, can't wait to see its young stars in what comes next. For Stephan James that includes 17 Bridges with Black Panther's Chadwick Boseman, due out in July, while Layne has two films ready to go: Native Son based on the book by Richard Wright and Captive State.