If Beale Street Could Talk
The rare example of a perfect film, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk considerably bests the filmmaker’s already strong work on the award winning Moonlight. If Moonlight was one of the best films of its year, and Medicine for Melancholy was a debut feature that hinted at future greatness, If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the best films ever made, earning a spot in the small pantheon of undisputable cinematic classics.
Pregnant Tish (KiKi Layne) struggles in 1970s New York City, while her fiancée (Stephan James) sits in prison for a rape he most likely didn’t commit. Frustrated by a system that seems designed to lock up as many black men as possible and throw away the key, Tish and her mother (Regina King) do the best they can to help the young man and protect their own way of life in the process.
Every scene and line of dialogue mounted by Jenkins throughout If Beale Street Could Talk hits with the force of a freight train. Every inch of the frame drips with a lived-in period quality that retains the spirit of Baldwin while simultaneously balancing post-modern sensibilities and a firmly in-check sense of nostalgia. Every performance is flawless. Adapting Baldwin is difficult enough, but making a film that might best the work of one of the greatest writers to ever live sounds impossible. Jenkins has somehow done the impossible. Point blank: cinema almost never gets better than this. I’ll have much more to say about this one when it sees a proper theatrical release, but missing If Beale Street Could Talk when it proprly comes out would be almost downright criminal. It’s the definition of required viewing; simultaneously one of the most romantic and politically loaded films ever created.