Updated: Dec 28, 2018
In the early 1970's Harlem we recall a love story of a couples unbreakable bond, told through the eyes of 19-year old Tish Rivers, as they battle the arrest of Fonny for a crime he did not commit.
Based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel by the same name, Barry Jenkins delivers a love story that is both powerful , yet melancholy. I am convinced that this man is a genius. He displays emotion and supports dialogue through music and color that creates an atmosphere so poetic that one can forget that this is actually a film, not a poem. As a black man, I felt at home. The African American family portrayed is extremely extensive, vivid, and strong. We see the limitations, the gender roles, the identities, and the ethics; everything is planted to show the black family inside and out. Not to mention the fresh 70’s clothing we use to wear.
Being that Barry is mostly known for his award streak for Moonlight, the comparison is evident. His style is becoming more and more notable, and it will not be long before other filmmakers begin to hop on the train. This film is a master class. I honestly should have walked in the theater with a notebook. From unique editing to stylistic cinematography, I have seen nothing like it. To find a technique that works is any filmmakers dream and the true icing on the cake is when EXTRAORDINARY actors bring your dreams to life. Kiki Layne (Tish) is a newcomer, and I hope that she is here to stay because her performance is perfection. She embodies a shy young girl who just wants to love even with the hardships that may come. She is afraid, but her heart is committed to love no matter what. Correspondingly, Stephen James (Fonny) is riveting as a young man fighting for his life and his family. He has a lot on his plate, but sadly, in his current position there is not much he can do. His frustration drives the film forward as his chances on winning the case gradually decreases. The chemistry between these two makes the romance in the film almost idyllic. As if their love is interrupted by the racism and violence surrounding them, rather than the versed norm. What holds it all together is Sharon, Tish mother played by Regina King, who easily gives one of the best performances of the year. There is nothing like a furious black mother when her family is in danger, and Regina is here to show you why. She is content and fierce for as she knows what she is capable of. Without a question, she is the film's standout.
Yes, this is a love story; no, it is not a chick flick. They are multiple comedic scenes, especially one involving a family meeting that was quite hysterical. They are scenes that feel as if you are in a documentary and others that feel as if you are in a play. Those were my favorites. Perhaps, my favorite scene involved Brian Tyree (Henry) and Stephen James over a beer and smoke. That is why we come to the theaters. For exquisite scenes like that.
To accompany the film’s tone, emotion, and period; we have the best soundtrack of the year. Composed by Nicholas Britell, we hear a whirlpool of symphonic jazz in mezzo piano that is subtle, yet haunting. The sound resembles the heart of Beale Street, the sound of love, and the sound of hope. It is tremendously soothing. I could not think of a better soundtrack for this film.
As a love story difficult to embrace, this film is one of the best of the year.
If this does not win best picture, then I do not know who will.