if beale street could talk

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: If Beale Street Could Talk

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: Barry Jenkins directed this heartbreakingly beautiful story of Fonny (Stephan James) and Tish (KiKi Layne), young lovers living in 1970s New York City who are trying to carve out their version of the American Dream. When Fonny is wrongfully arrested for a crime by a bigoted police officer, a pregnant Tish does whatever she can to try to prove his innocence.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: Will I get canceled by my fellow cinephiles for saying that I like this movie more than Jenkins’ Best Picture-winning Moonlight? Stay tuned to find out!

If Beale Street Could Talk is a small film that flew relatively under the radar when it came out in 2018, but has only grown in my estimation the more I think about it. I read James Baldwin‘s excellent novel after seeing the movie, and experiencing this story in those two distinct ways retroactively gave me even more respect for what Jenkins was able to accomplish here in terms of the adaptation. The book does not lend itself to an easy adaptation, but Jenkins made it look easy here, retaining nearly every aspect of the novel and even improving on a few moments.

Regina King won an Oscar for her supporting performance as Tish’s mother, and it’s a powerhouse performance that absolutely deserved the recognition it received at the time. But I feel like the rest of the movie was not viewed in the same light by audiences and the Academy, and it really should have been. The performances are outstanding across the board: James and Layne imbue Fonny and Tish with a natural familiarity and ease with one another that feels aspirational, Colman Domingo and Michael Beach are excellent as the fathers of this young couple, and there’s even a nice little appearance by Diego Luna as one of Fonny’s pals. But the show-stopping moment comes at the hands of Brian Tyree Henry, who plays another of Fonny’s friends who just got out of jail.

The film is a masterwork of empathy, aided tremendously by Jenkins’ masterful direction – he really is at the crossroads of Jonathan Demme and Wong Kar-wai. But the MVP of the entire experience has to be Nicholas Britell‘s out-of-this-world score. The more I listen to it, the more I’m convinced this is among the best film scores of all time. If you skipped it or missed it the first time around, I highly encourage you to let this film envelope you and whisk you away.

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