In 1974, James Baldwin published his fifth novel. Four and a half decades later, Afro-American writer/director Barry Jenkins has brought it to the screen. The wait has been worthwhile.
In 1972 Harlem, the Afro-American Rivers family is cultured, moderately well-off. Their elder daughter Tish has been seeing Alonzo (nicknamed “Fonny”). Tish has brought home a surprise. Yup, she’s pregnant and proud of it. And the family is delighted. They invite Fonny’s family for a celebratory drink. The event is a disaster but not because Fonny is not with them. Fonny’s mom and two sisters are holy rollers and Tish’s mother Sharon isn’t having her beloved daughter maligned by blinkered religious attitudes.
So begins a lovely film that combines family strength with the love and the loyalty that Tish and Fonny are determined to sustain. That’s not easy, because Fonny has been framed by a racist white cop. The charge is rape. The victim is a mentally-unstable Puerto Rican woman. And Fonny is in prison while preparations for trial are not hurrying.
This is a film for people of goodwill and compassion to savour and enjoy. While it ends somewhat short of happily, it collects its issues into a neat parcel that a wonderful cast plays with visible affection. Playing the young lovers, Kiki Layne and Stephan James are close to faultless. As Sharon, Regina King gives a sustained performance of Oscar-nomination quality. Colman Domingo as Tish’s father and Michael Beach as Fonnny’s dad give the story steady support. As Fonny’s mother, Aunjanue Ellis provides a brief but important appearance flavoured with pepper, lemon and chilli. Watching Sharon dealing with her is an early high point in the film.
“If Beale Street Could Talk” delivers a mixture of dramatic elements that deserve to be seen. It made my day.
At Capitol 6, Palace Electric and Dendy