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If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins broke through to the big time with 2016’s “Moonlight.” The writer/director crafted a beautiful, unusual effort and managed to ride its unexpected success all the way to Oscar gold, with the feature memorably claiming the Best Picture award, guaranteeing intense concentration on whatever the helmer was preparing for his follow-up. “If Beale Street Could Talk” continues Jenkins’s evolution as a formidable screen artist, assuming the challenge of bringing author James Baldwin to a wide audience, adapting a 1974 novel about the state of love and incarceration in Black America. Baldwin had a specific way of communication, artful and contentious, and such a tone is gently translated to film by Jenkins, who shows expected confidence with “If Beale Street Could Talk,” working to precisely convey Baldwin while maintaining his own elegiac vision for personal crisis.
Friends since they were children, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James) have escalated their kindness to love, embarking on a relationship that pushes them both into the responsibilities of adulthood. However, such mutual adoration is challenged when Fonny is accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman, facing a ruthless arresting officer (Ed Skrien) and a justice system that has no interest in helping a black man. While Fonny sits in prison, confronted with the pure darkness of corruption and fear, Tish remains on the outside, faced with a pregnancy she’s unprepared for, juggling work with a legal fight to free Fonny, hoping to dismiss the false charges. Tish also relies on her family for support, with her mother, Sharon (Regina King), trying to make sense of the situation, finding ways to pay for legal representation in an effort to preserve the future Tish and Fonny have started together.
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