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#TIFF18 Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

September 12, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Following up his Oscar-winning masterpiece Moonlight, Barry Jenkins brings James Baldwin’s work to the screen with a highly lyrical sensibility in his latest film If Beale Street Could Talk.

Based on Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, the film tells the story of Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Alfonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James), a young couple in Harlem who find out she is pregnant just as he is put in jail on false accusations. This leaves Tish and her family trying desperately to clear Fonny’s name, and get him released before the birth of their child.

This film was always, perhaps unfairly, going to be compared to Moonlight, and it doesn’t hit as hard as that knockout 2016 film. This one wanders around a bit more, taking on a very literary quality through the voiceover narration, and the way the drama is framed can feel a bit stagey at times. But If Beale Street Could Talk is still a well acted and emotionally effective character piece that, despite its period setting, touches on themes of racial injustice that still resonate.

The film is further elevated by James Laxton’s luscious cinematography. As in his previous collaboration with Jenkins, Laxton once again makes memorable use of light and colour in a way that calls to mind a variety of their cinematic influences. This is the sort of film that I want to watch again outside of the busyness of a film festival, when I think it will have more time to resonate even more with me.

Kiki Layne and Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk

Public Screenings:

Sunday, September 9th – 6:00 PM at Princess of Wales Theatre

Monday, September 10th – 11:00 AM at Princess of Wales Theatre

The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6th to 16th.

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