I knew “If Beale Street Could Talk” would be on my list the moment I saw the trailer. It was obvious that director Barry Jenkins was no one hit wonder based on that beautiful trailer. Jenkins won best picture for his movie “Moonlight” two years ago and I think it’s fair to say most of us cinephiles were waiting with bated breath for his next movie.
It should say a lot that Jenkins was even allowed to make this movie. Getting permission from the Baldwin estate was an achievement in and of itself. This is the first adaptation of a James Baldwin novel on film and I’m sure James Baldwin would be proud. Beale Street is an extremely graceful and poetic movie. It feels more like a moving poem than a romantic drama.
There’s one element about Beale Street that kind of shook me to my core. It’s an intense movie about two childhood friends who fall in love and become pregnant while trying to prove the father’s innocence as he is wrongfully incarcerated for rape. The thing that really got to me with Beale Street is how up close and sensual it is. Jenkins has become a master of using close ups with this movie. Characters stare right down the barrel of the camera and deep into your soul as the events of this movie transpire. They speak to us, the audience, about their struggles. And not only is the cinematography personal, the score is as well. Nicholas Britell crafts a very soft score with warm and emotional strings backed by these rapturous jazz horns. I’ve never heard anything like this in a soundtrack before. You can feel the bow moving across the strings of the violin in every track. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
Regina King is being praised for her portrayal of Sharon Rivers. She is fierce, caring, protective and proud in every scene. This performance is sure to get her a nomination and very likely a win at the Oscars this year. But the praise shouldn’t stop with her. “If Beale Street Could Talk” has such a deep bench of outstanding performances. Kiki Layne and Stephan James lead the movie as Tish and Fonny. They have a palpable romantic chemistry that is simply undeniable. There’s also a scene that features Brian Tyree Henry (who needs to take a nap, he’s in every movie this year) in which he takes over the movie with his presence. This is just one of those movies where even Dave Franco’s five minute scene is impressive. Literally every performance deserves an Oscar.
There are movies that I liked more than “If Beale Street Could Talk” this year, but I don’t know if there are movies that are as top-to-bottom perfectly crafted as it is. Between the vibrant and immersive cinematography, the breathtaking score and endless amounts of great performances it’s pretty clear to me that Barry Jenkins is one of the greatest filmmakers currently working. As I wait for his next project, whatever it may be, there’s a line from “If Beale Street Could Talk” that’s playing in my head: “I’ve never been more ready for anything in my whole life.”