If Beale Street Could Talk

Based on the book by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk details the 1970s-set romance between Alonzo (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne) and the complications that ensue after the former is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Filmmaker Barry Jenkins has infused If Beale Street Could Talk with a lush and remarkably captivating visual sensibility that’s perpetuated by an almost impressionistic narrative, as Jenkins, working from his own screenplay, jumps back and forth between Alonzo and Tish’s initial romance and their subsequent efforts at forging ahead after he’s arrested – with the often enthralling atmosphere heightened by the note-perfect work of actors James and Layne (as well as a stellar supporting cast that includes, among others, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, and Regina King). It’s just as clear, however, that Jenkins’ somewhat self-indulgent approach to the material paves the way for a palpably erratic midsection, with certain sections and sequences disrupting the tenuous momentum and generally unable to pack the punch that the filmmaker has clearly intended (eg a very long interlude involving Alonzo’s encounter with a close friend, played by Brian Tyree Henry). Such concerns are essentially rendered moot as the picture progresses into its increasingly compelling second half, which is rife with emotionally-resonant and downright electrifying set-pieces (eg Alonzo runs afoul of a racist police officer, Tish’s mother talks to Alonzo’s accuser, etc) that pave the way for an impressively moving final stretch – with the end result a strong adaptation that marks a serious step forward for Jenkins after the audacious yet underwhelming Moonlight.

*** out of ****

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