IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

Fonny busi­ness…

Total Film - - Contents -

Moon­light’s Barry Jenk­ins is the talk of the town again.

The novels of James Bald­win were shame­fully un­der-ex­plored dur­ing his life­time. So Barry Jenk­ins’ faith­ful in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Bald­win’s 1974 love story goes some way to­wards ad­dress­ing this slight, even if it will be the suc­cess of Jenk­ins’ Best Pic­ture-win­ner Moon­light (rather than, say, Bald­win’s Go Tell It On The Moun­tain) that pulls peo­ple in.

The Beale Street every­body knows is a his­toric thor­ough­fare in Mem­phis that will for­ever be as­so­ci­ated with the blues. Jenk­ins’ film, though, be­gins in Har­lem, the home of both 19-year-old Tish (ra­di­ant new­comer KiKi Layne) and CER­TIFI­CATE 15 DI­REC­TOR Barry Jenk­ins STAR­RING KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Brian Tyree Henry, Pe­dro Pas­cal SCREEN­PLAY Barry Jenk­ins DIS­TRIB­U­TOR EOne RUN­NING TIME 119 mins

22-year-old Fonny (Stephan James from Race and Home­com­ing), her child­hood friend turned lover. Tish, newly preg­nant, longs to build a home with Fonny, a tal­ented sculp­tor. Yet her beau is in the slam­mer, hav­ing been ac­cused of rap­ing a Puerto Ri­can woman he says he’s never met.

The story’s bare bones are quickly es­tab­lished in a film that then leisurely un­folds in op­po­site di­rec­tions, us­ing flash­backs to show the foun­da­tions of the cen­tral re­la­tion­ship while chart­ing Tish’s ef­forts to cur­tail her part­ner’s un­just in­car­cer­a­tion. Along the way, Jenk­ins stages some splen­did se­quences, chief among them a do­mes­tic set-piece in which Tish’s an­nounce­ment of her im­pend­ing ar­rival prompts a with­er­ing re­ac­tion from Fonny’s re­li­gious zealot of a mother (Aun­janue El­lis).

Tish’s own mum, in con­trast, is a paragon of ten­der­ness and tol­er­ance, as shown by her tak­ing a trip to San Juan to ex­hort Fonny’s ac­cuser to re­verse her tes­ti­mony. Played by the ma­jes­tic Regina King, Sharon typ­i­fies the film’s over­ar­ch­ing idea that love is re­ally our only de­fence against life’s vi­cis­si­tudes, not to men­tion the in­sti­tu­tional big­otry (em­bod­ied by Ed Skrein’s vin­dic­tive po­lice of­fi­cer, the racist be­hind the trumped-up rape charge) that stops peo­ple like Fonny get­ting ahead.

Work­ing with reg­u­lar DoP James Lax­ton, Jenk­ins swad­dles the young love­birds’ bur­geon­ing romance in a rav­ish­ing soft-fo­cus shim­mer that makes their later meet­ings amidst the grubby greens of a prison vis­it­ing room all the more heart­break­ing. He also draws fine per­for­mances from his cast, Tey­onah Par­ris bring­ing a fe­ro­cious mil­i­tancy to Tish’s tough-talk­ing si­b­ling and Wid­ows’ Brian Tyree Henry of­fer­ing price­less sup­port as an old pal of Fonny’s still smart­ing from the mem­ory of a re­cent stint be­hind bars. Only Dave Franco lets the side down, his odd­ball cameo as a kindly Jewish land­lord con­sti­tut­ing the sole mis­step of note in an oth­er­wise su­perla­tive slice of ’70s so­cial re­al­ism. Neil Smith

THE VER­DICT

An­other beau­ti­fully played, gor­geously pho­tographed snap­shot of the African-Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence.

Eas­tEn­ders fans be warned, there’s not a trace of Ian, Kathy, Pete or Bobby here…

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