I hope that nobody has ever had to look at anybody they love through glass

If Beale Street Could Talk ( 2018 )

★★★★   |   Sept. 13, 2018

When director Barry Jenkins released his second feature film, few could have predicted that the low budget film with a relatively unknown cast would ultimately pick up the biggest prize at the 89th Academy Awards. "If Beale Street Could Talk" is his follow up and a companion piece to "Moonlight", adapted from the novel by James Baldwin. While Moonlight may have slipped under the radar, a naturally larger expectation follows the release of Beale Street.

The film starts with the 19-year-old Tish visiting her boyfriend Lonny in jail, and telling him through glass that he's about to become a father. Despite their predicament, they are happy and hopeful about the new arrival. However, while Tish's family are supportive, Lonny's mother and sisters resent her and the baby. She's not good enough for their Lonny. The rest of the movie deals with two key aspects of the story, how Lonny got there, and the cold reality of their situation. This is told in two separate timelines which each have their own distinct feel to them. The past is hopeful, while the present is hollow and cold - an all too well trodden path for the residents of the Beale Streets of this world.

Lonny and Tish have known each other since they were children, but now, at the ages of 19 and 21, we see their relationship blossom and bloom. They move in together and begin to prepare for a future. They know the odds are stacked against them, but they're determined to overcome them. However, the first cracks in their idyllic world appear when Daniel, a larger than life friend of Lonny's, visits. His proud exterior crumbles when he reveals the horror of his most recent stint in prison. It's an omen for what is to come. We see how an altercation with a police officer leads to Lonny being wrongly accused of rape, and his innocence matters little as the system turns itself against him. As we move to the present, Tish and the families must deal with the aftermath of Lonny's incarceration. They spend their time talking with lawyers and investigators, trying to find some way to prove his innocence. But money and influence are all that matters, and they have precious little of either.

Beale Street is both a tender and harsh journey, exploring hope and injustice. The stylistic turns that made Moonlight such a surprise success are still here, but Beale Street also contains a more conventional plot. The past is told in an almost dreamlike state, where we explore the happy memories of their short time together, while the present is more rigidly presented. A number of shots are set up so that the characters are almost directly addressing us, begging us to help. While drawing comparisons may not be fair, Beale Street is a more than worthy successor to Moonlight, and may in fact be the superior movie.