‘Unbow your head, sister...’
It bothers me when something receives universal acclaim and I’m not into it. I go into every film or TV show or album or whatever wanting to love that thing. If it’s incredibly popular, I want to try and figure out why so many people have connected with that thing and how I can channel that to forge my own relationship with that thing. Barry Jenkins’ Oscar winning phenomenon Moonlight is one such film for me. I watched it and I was so unmoved that I couldn’t even muster a review. I can’t think of many films over the past decade that have had such a minimal impact on me. I think this is part of the reason why it has taken me so long to watch If Beale Street Could Talk despite the universal acclaim that this film also garnered. While I enjoyed this one more than Moonlight, I still think there is something I’m missing here…
Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James) are star crossed lovers trying to deal with the formers pregnancy and the latters incarceration on rape charges. Luckily, Tish has her supportive mother Sharon (Regina King) and her sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris) fighting her corner.
As a tableau of life for a poor, African American family in Harlem, Jenkins’ film is warm, lived in and fraught with the dangers of that community. The dialogue is authentic if a little flat and both Layne and, particularly Regina King, do a great job in selling the maternal bond between them.
That being said, again as with Moonlight, I struggle to forge any kind of emotional connection with this story, it’s a familiar storyline that I feel has been overdone elsewhere, and at two hours, you could comfortably lose half an hour from the running time and come out with a more captivating movie.
It feels like Barry Jenkins and his films just aren’t for me, but for fans of his previous work, or of the coming-of-age genre more generally, there is probably plenty here for others to enjoy.