I have always been a fan of personal stories because it puts me in the middle of a world I might never have the chance to enter. I feel without a specific point of view on a subject I am unfamiliar with it only adds to my understanding of others. Movies are a great way to deliver those ideas and views and because of certain films I feel I have better understanding of the world and the people who live in it. Not every story though has an impact, but some storytellers have a knack of hitting the right buttons to have a lasting effect on you. Both James Baldwin and Barry Jenkins are two of these kinds of people.
Fresh off the Oscar winning Moonlight , Jenkins is back in the telling on the screen of the Baldwin novel. Tish (Nikki Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” (Stephan James) have grown up together, but their friendship has blossomed. Now they are a young couple in love, but they are also a young black couple in in Harlem in the early seventies which can add to their difficulties. Tish and Fonny’s world is turned upside down when Fonny is accused of a crime he did not commit. To make matters worse, Tish is pregnant and while she is carrying Fonny’s baby she is trying to prove her husbands innocence with the help of her family. The chips though are stacked against them and when Tish’s mother Sharon (Regina King) is unable to convince the accuser to say she was forced to pick out Fonny in a lineup, he ends up taking a plea in order to serve as little time as he possible. The couple’s love is one of endurance, patience, and the strength to carry on.
Having two storytellers at the top of their game is a marvel to watch unfold on the screen. Jenkins who has already set himself apart from so many with Moonlight only builds on it with the exceptional story he tells. What comes out on the screen is a mix of Jenkins and Baldwin with the influence of a Spike Lee thrown in there for good measure. Make no mistake though while Lee helped pave the way for a filmmaker like Jenkins, it is Jenkins who has made his own road. With such a strong story I am even more in awe by the performances of Layne and James who are a light in a film that has little of it because of the subject matter. Layne as Tish is illuminating and leaves you hoping to see more of her in the years to come. If Beale Street Could Talk is a story not just about race but about love and how it can overcome most things. It’s also a story and a film that puts Jenkins in the upper echelon of filmmakers, a place I don’t see him vacating anytime soon. These are the stories that make me see both the good and the bad of humanity, but it also shows that good almost always defeats the bad and with this film we get to witness greatness in more ways than one.