I always say that my favorite movies stems not from me thinking they are good, but is derived from which ones I have most connected to emotionally. Last year, my favorite was ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ and this year I think it will be ‘If Beale Street Could Talk.’ Why? Because it touched the hopeful romantic in me – it is one of the lushest, richest love stories I have seen in a while, and one of the only real love stories in film this year. Directed by Barry Jenkins (whose ‘Moonlight’ was my favorite movie that year, too) from the 1974 James Baldwin novel of the same name, the film centers around Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fony (Stephan James) teenagers who fall in love. Most of the time, in love stories, there are internal obstacles that keep the lovers from being together. Here, though, it’s the world outside that is keeping them apart, as Fony is accused of a crime he did not commit. So, we our hearts are ripped apart as we root for them to be together. Jenkins films the couple with such a beautiful lens, using colors and music to set such a romantic mood you cannot help but fall in love as you are falling in love with them. (The film is bathed with beautiful Instagram-like filters that give it an amber vintage feel )This has the best soundtrack of any film this year, and you can feel the power and intensity of their passion as an saxophone version of ‘I Wish I Knew’ as they make love for the first time.
And the performances are all first rate, making Layne and James two actors to watch out for, as both have glorious screen presence and exude the just the right amount of pathos and warmth. I know that out there there is a very dedicated faction rooting for a nomination for Regina King who plays Tish’s mom, and while I do agree she is fine (she always is) I am not sure if the performance is enough.
Beneath the romantic sentimentality, though, is a message. Jenkins frames the film with black and white pictures of numerous black men falsely accused of crimes. The times then was still unforgiving, and at times you wonder if we have advanced in these Trumpian times. What I loved most is the romance, of course. This is a film that will make you want to fall in love, and for me, that’s what resonated most.