REVIEW: A walk in ‘Beale Street’ is worth taking

No matter what neighborhood you grew up in, you will leave this movie knowing how it feels to live on Beale Street.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” follows the story of a young woman named Tish (Kiki Layne) and her boyfriend Alonzo (Stephan James), who’s sitting in jail because a police officer suspected him as the assailant in a rape case.

As the movie goes on, Tish is coming to terms with the fact that Alonzo was wrongly accused while also learning that she’s become pregnant. Over the course of the picture, Tish goes through the stages of her pregnancy while also trying to clear Alonzo’s name, with the help of her family.

“Beale Street” features a very powerful, moving story about life and love. The movie was adapted to the screen from a 1974 novel with the same name by director Barry Jenkins, and he did a marvelous job. Like his previous film “Moonlight,” Jenkins again crafts an amazing cinematic product, with so many scenes containing powerful moments.

While nearly all the scenes of the film are wonderful, though, the movie does have an issue when it comes to the pacing. “Beale Street” has a pace that’s a little too slow at points. There are some moments when that slow pace works to the movie’s advantage, but at other times it can be a detriment.

Regarding the narrative, there’s also a sequence where Tish’s mother, played by Regina King, goes on a trip as part of a way to help clear Alonzo’s name. While something like this can work in a book where there are several chapters, the set of scenes dedicated to this moment in the movie feels largely out of place and a bit jarring when compared to the rest of the picture. While this moment was likely an important part of the novel, somethings just don’t translate as well to film.

For the most part, though, “Beale Street” still largely works thanks to how well Jenkins and his crew put it all together. The writing, with Jenkins penning the novel’s story for the screen, is out of this world in terms of quality. The picture is just superb in terms of its writing, with the dialogue being especially fantastic. There’s one scene in particular during a flashback where Alonzo is talking with a friend over a couple of beers, and it’s incredible. It’s one of my favorite scenes of 2018 because of both how it was shot and how well written it was.

The same quality is there for the romance between Tish and Alonzo. This is one of the best on-screen romances I’ve seen in a while, up there with other great relationships portrayed on film, such as the one in the “Before Sunrise” series. The love and affection between the two main protagonists comes across so well.

Courtesy Plan B Entertainment.

Speaking of the leads, Layne and James are both phenomenal in their roles. Layne perfectly captures how many things her character is trying to juggle in her life, and the strain it’s putting on her. Plus, Layne does great voice-work for poetic monologues that serve as sort of interludes in certain places of the picture. James, meanwhile, is quite impressive, especially when roughly half of his scenes are behind glass, as his character is talking to Tish through a jail phone.

The supporting cast deserves plenty of praise, too. Colman Domingo is really good as Tish’s father and Regina King knocks it out of the park as the main character’s mother. King is incredible in the movie, giving one of 2018’s best performances from an actress and she will rightfully get noticed this award season.

One can’t overlook just how well the movie looks, either. The film has beautiful cinematography and lighting, and it brings not only the characters, but the setting to life in convincing fashion.

There are some areas where the slow pacing snags “Beale Street” a little bit and it does feature that sequence that felt out of place. However, the acting, writing and direction is all fantastic, making it one of 2018’s better movies. 4.1 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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