If Beale Street Could Talk (4 stars)

If Beale Street Could Talk

TIFF 2018: Heartbreaking and gorgeously crafted love story from Moonlight's Barry Jenkins

Writer-director Barry Jenkins follows his Best Picture Oscar-winner Moonlight with a gorgeously crafted heartbreak of a love story. His screen version of James Baldwin's 1974 novel confirms his reputation as a hopeless romantic and an exceptional filmmaker.

Tish (KiKi Layne) and 'Fonny' (Stephan James) are one of the most entrancing couples we've seen in a long time. Friends since childhood, they grow to adulthood and the realisation that they are also soulmates. Jenkins captures the joy and promise of their love in searching close-ups, tender regards and kisses to build a dream on. This is America, however, and neither Jenkins nor Baldwin are willing to trade in false comfort. When Fonny is arrested on a trumped-up rape charge, their dream future crumbles. The injustice of his position burns and it starts to feel impossible to challenge the forces of history and a racist nation that have taken against him.

If Beale Street Could Talk looks absolutely fabulous with deep, burnished colours and a bright retro wardrobe that jumps off the screen and makes you want to rush out and buy it. The soundtrack is seductive, the performances are terrific and the tears you shed are hard won and fully deserved.

Jenkins secures some excellent performances from the ensemble cast, not least Regina King as Tish's formidable mother Sharon. Layne and James are both beautiful and beguiling, making us fall in love with them as they fall in love with each other. They have dramatic ability as well as good looks, ensuring we believe and feel every step of tragedy in their great romance.

The weary irony of the conclusion may lack subtlety for some and the sense of pace fades a little in the second half, but these are minor flaws. This is a great big lyrical swoon of a film with a rueful anger concealed beneath its soft, tender heart.

Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival 2018. General release from Fri 18 Jan 2019.

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