13 January 2019 | ccamp89
Strong 4 // Impressionistic drama
Barry Jenkins follows up Moonlight with another impressionistic drama whose focus is firmly on mood over plot. Tish and Alonzo are young African Americans in Harlem, in the 1970s, and in love. This is the story of their relationship, and the challenges it faces during the era.
In terms of craft, If Beale Street Could Talk is a confident step forward for Jenkins. It's a rapturously beautiful film full of powerful images captured by a disembodied camera that floats, glides, and contemplates. Jenkins creates a potently intimate and romantic atmosphere around his two leads who together glow like a flame warding off the darkness of their time. The specifics of the narrative itself, which is admittedly somewhat lacking in depth, is really secondary to the mood. The power of the film lies in its style and Jenkins' keen ability to express emotion through his images. The music, picture, and editing routinely coalesce into a dreamlike and affecting whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Though as wonderful as the style is and as crucial as I see it to be for the film, it can occasionally become a tad overbearing. Jenkins is coming off of a Best Picture win for his sophomore film and enjoying the resulting budgetary benefits. It's only natural that he would revel in it a bit and the results are often ravishing, though sometimes at the expense of restraint. Some scenes can drag and come off as a bit too self-indulgent. And the central relationship, while undeniably tender and well-acted, edges slightly into over-idealization as we're shown scene after scene of swooning love declarations and longing gazes. This creates a syrupy quality that somewhat lessens the impact of the heavy social themes at the film's core.
The film ultimately succeeds, though, on the strength of its craft and powerful images. It's a film that clearly cares deeply about its characters and message which, sadly, remains startlingly relevant.