If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

A stream-of-consciousness style non-linear romance, adapting James Baldwin’s novel of the same name. Formally the film is very well-made. The visuals are particularly good; clearly there was much thought given to the colour coordination (noticeable right from the opening scene, with the understated complementary outfits) and composition (the director’s big centered close-ups, like a character is baring their soul right into the camera, make a return from his previous effort “Moonlight”). The editing finds throughlines through the different time periods of the film and does a subtle, so-good-you-don’t-even-notice-it job of connecting scenes through emotional logic.

Dialogue is trickier. Evidently the novel was a big enough inspiration that it merited lifting directly from through voiceovers placed sometimes wonkily over the top of scenes. The cast sometimes struggle with delivery phrases presumably straight from the novel, and at times the film seems like it’s simulating a dramatic reading or specifically tuned theatre piece more than what it is. A lot of the dramatic irony of the film speaks powerfully enough for itself, and sometimes the poetic dialogue stifles that. Not all the cast is equal either – one scene sees the lead man painfully outclassed by a visiting friend, who retroactively foreshadows a lot of the hardships he will go through.

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An interesting choice was visually depicting absolutely none of the darker elements of the film (gaol time, a sexual assault that drives the plot). Scenes such as that discussion between the male lead and his friend over prison, or the protagonist’s mother making a woman that was raped, centre on characters with some form of commonality (race, gender) being told by one with experience with the topic at hand what it’s like, the seriousness of it. Diction, not depiction. The commonality ideally sees the characters take each other seriously and learn, though it’s to mixed results. Those dialogues don’t get exactly explicit with the events they focus on either, which makes it all the stranger how awkwardly direct the dialogue gets at other points in the film.

It’s a pretty film, but it undercuts a lot of its own strengths. Three beers and a close-up.

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