The Photograph (3 stars)

The Photograph

Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield team up for an atmospheric but not entirely convincing romantic drama

The past dangles enticingly over the present in Stella Meghie's lushly pieced together romantic drama, starring Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield as two New York professionals daring to fall in love. Shifting between time periods and locations, the film unfolds as two intertwining stories, the other set in 1980s rural Louisiana. The difficult decisions that people make when it comes to love, family and careers are languidly pondered over, pinning together the two timelines, as they play out to reveal secrets and heartache.

Assistant museum curator Mae (Rae) is still processing the death of her mother Christina (played by Chanté Adams in her younger years) when reporter Michael (Stanfield) appears at her place of work. He's interested in her mother's career as a photographer, which is tied to a story he is writing about Louisiana fisherman Isaac (Rob Morgan in the present and Y'lan Noel in the past). A black and white photo of a young Christina sitting alone at her kitchen table (inspired by the work of Carrie Mae Weems) holds mystery and the potential for a great magazine article.

Meghie sets the scene with dreamy visuals and an appealing backdrop of eye-catching, picture-perfect apartments, offices and restaurants where characters flirt, create, joke, argue over Drake and Kendrick Lamar, and search for meaning in their lives. The jazzy score from Robert Glasper blends with a smooth soundtrack featuring the great Karyn White, while cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard merges cool blues and exotic greens with creamy cocoa browns to create a cosily alluring ambience.

The fantastic supporting cast, that includes a memorable Teyonah Parris and Lil Rel Howery, add welcome flurries of verve in between a central romance that doesn't always spark convincingly. If the frisson between Christina and a young Isaac sets the screen alight during the film's flashbacks, it's harder to buy the relationship between Mae and Michael. Still, Meghie's ability to whip up an intoxicating atmosphere means the deeper themes curiously linger even after the credits roll.

General release from Fri 6 Mar.

The Photograph

  • 3 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 46min
  • Directed by: Stella Meghie
  • Cast: LaKeith Stanfield, Issa Rae, Chelsea Peretti

Mae (Rae) is an assistant museum curator who becomes involved with reporter Michael (Stanfield), who’s interested in her mother’s career as a photographer. Lush romantic drama with an appealing backdrop and a fantastic supporting cast, even if the central romance doesn’t quite spark; still, the deeper themes linger.