Remember the massive kiss-ass chorus that greeted Nate Parker‘s The Birth of a Nation in Park City two and two-thirds years ago? Remember Kyle Buchanan’s admission ten months later (on 10.5.16) about how he “talked to plenty of people at Sundance who felt the film was just okay or even mediocre, but they weren’t eager to share their reactions at the time, lest they step on Parker’s moment”?
A similar thing happened tonight in Toronto in response to the first public screening of Barry Jenkins‘ If Beale Street Could Talk (Annapurna, 11.30). Everybody loved Moonlight and everyone loves Barry, and the fix was in. The Princess of Wales audience was in the tank before the first beams of projector light hit the screen. Beale Street is slow and sad and lovey-dovey to a fare-thee-well, all amber-lit and yet shadowy and meditative and slow as molasses in February, and the crowd leapt to its feet when the film ended, and the shameless Twitter lapdogs lost their collective shit.
Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn called it “a sumptuous cinematic experience” that perfectly complements James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, or words to that effect. Yahoo Entertainment’s Kevin Polowy tweeted that Beale Street is “one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve seen told onscreen in a long time…heartbreaking, soul-piercing and, thank the Lord, at times bitingly funny.” Buchanan, now the N.Y. Times Carpetbagger, called it “a beautifully wrought and just plain beautiful film…lush in color, feeling, humor and love.”
They won’t admit this in so many words, but these guys were mainly talking about Beale Street‘s lovestruck mood and warm cinematography (soft yellows and greens) and so on. Ohhh, it’s so full of feeling and such tenderness and a certain kind of visual beauty, etc.
Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere called If Beale Street Could Talk “a decent film in a sluggish, warm-hearted, ‘I love you baby’ sort of way. The two leads, Stephan James and Kiki Layne, are highly appealing in all respects, not the least being that they’re physically beautiful. And I agree that Regina King (who plays Layne’s mom) might land a Best Supporting Actress nomination, but no win. James Laxton‘s cinematography and Nicholas Britell‘s musical score are probably the two best elements.
“The fact is that Beale Street is all about mood and faith and dreamy lovers giving each eye baths. It has no narrative tension or snap, no second act pivot or third-act payoff or anything in the least bit peppy or spunky, much less reach-for-the-skies. It’s languid and sluggish and awash in feeling that isn’t pointed at anything but itself. Not a disaster but definitely minor. On to the next one, Barry.”
When one over-praiser gushed about all the love and tenderness, I tweeted “take the needle out of your arm.”
I also tweeted “two words that dare not emerge from the shadows: sophomore slump.” Somebody said that Beale Street is actually Barry’s third film, which is technically true. But Moonlight was his big breakout debut so Beale Street is the follow-up, and I’m sorry but after the Toronto bullshit wears off the collective response is going to be a big “uhhm, nice film but it’s too laid back and doesn’t really cut it.”
From Peter Debruge’s Variety review: “Reality melts away as the camera cranes to follow these two lovebirds, establishing a tone that’s more Little Miss Sunshine than Moonlight for much of Jenkins’ third (and third-best) feature, right down to the too-cute period costumes and distracting wallpaper choices.
“The movie quotes James Baldwin as saying, ‘Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street,’ but this one may as well be located inside a snow globe. In deciding how to translate Baldwin’s prose to the screen, Jenkins may as well have made Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ as a Douglas Sirk movie (or put Alice Waters’ ‘The Color Purple’ through the Steven Spielberg filter).
“That may not be the right approach for everyone, but it will work for some, particularly those for whom Jenkins’ Beale Street signifies another prominent stride in the crusade for African-American representation on-screen.”
Based on the 1974 James Baldwin novel and set in early ’70s Harlem, If Beale Street Could Talk (Annapurna, 11.30) is about how a young African-American couple deals with a false accusation in 1970s Harlem.
The main protagonists are Tish (Layne), a 19 year-old, and Fonny (James), a 22 year-old sculptor, and their extended family. Fonny is unjustly accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman, and is sent to prison. Soon after Tish discovers she’s pregnant. She, her family and her lawyer struggle to find evidence that will free Fonny before the baby is born.