How many ways are woke critics sprinkling raindrops of love upon Barry Jenkins‘ If Beale Street Could Talk (Annapurna, 11.30)? Answer: They’re workin’ it hard.
In Toronto I wrote that Beale Street is “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.
“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, which is to say Jenkins’ scrupulous loyalty to James Baldwin‘s 1974 novel.
“Not a disaster but definitely minor. James Laxton‘s cinematography and Nicholas Britell‘s musical score are probably the two best elements.”
A tweet this morning from Variety‘s Guy Lodge: “Every petal of memory here is perfectly placed, nested just so, each unfurling the other like the network of a rose. Swoonsome romanticism also teems with hot sociopolitical anger; both literal and sensually inventive in its allegiance to Baldwin.”
Less-than-sincere HE response: “I agree, and it’s so deeply satisfying, I might add, when things don’t break Fonny’s way in terms of his Puerto Rican accuser and he accepts a deal to do several more years in the slam for a crime he didn’t commit. But that’s okay because Tish and the family love him so much. Life is unfair, life is cruel but love endures. Or something like that. And when all else fails, there’s that gentle, amber-lit Wong Kar Wai vibe to soothe everyone’s spirits.”
Lodge: “To echo a point made by @NicksFlickPicks, Jenkins’ diverse compendium of reference points — Wong to Sirk, Denis to Demy — deftly serves to de-ghettoise black experience, to bring it into everyone’s frame of reference. I must revisit Moonlight with this in mind.”
Bottom line: It’s okay with me if the Beale Street-ers want to swoon in their own realm. They’re in the Barry tank and I respect that. We all have our spiritual comfort zones. To each his own.
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.”