Interviews About My #1 Film of 2018, If Beale Street Could Talk

Posted on January 7, 2019 at 8:00 am

Copyright Annapurna 2018
I had the great pleasure of speaking to two of the people behind my favorite film of the year, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” breakout star Kiki Layne and writer/director Barry Jenkins, who adapted the film from the James Baldwin novel.

My interview with Ms. Layne was for the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. She spoke about the support her character gets from her strong, devoted family.

The love in that family is just so, so powerful. We see the beauty of having those people to lean into and having those people around that are nurturing you and nurturing your growth. Tish has some growing up to do. Her family encourages that but it’s not all, “You’ve got to get over this.” It wasn’t that type of energy. It’s just like, “Hey, this is a situation that you’re in but really we’re all in it together,” and I think that was the beauty of the family dynamic in this film.

And I spoke to Barry Jenkins for He described the one scene where he augmented Baldwin’s story.

Another one of my favorite scenes is the one where they’re in the loft with the young landlord after so many rejections. It is so delicate and charming.

The character was in the book but it’s one of the few places in the translation that I’ll say I felt it didn’t go just far enough for me and so as I was walking around the space I just had this thought in my head like, “How in the hell could you possibly see a way to turn this into a home?” Then I realized, “Oh, but what says love and faith more than a lover saying, ‘I promise I can do this’ and you say ‘Okay, yes I believe you,’” So that’s when we added this whole thing of how we’re going to make this into a home and then him showing where he’s going to put all these things and then I was like, “Oh, it feels kind of cute let’s just go all the way with this pantomiming with the fridge,” and when we did it, there was something so lovely about watching Dave Franco and Stephan James perform this kind of joke in a certain way which was rooted in love and faith that when we got to the roof it also seemed like, “Okay, and now these characters feel connected. How can we take it one step further?”

This idea of mothers in the film is so important. Tish has a mother and she is pregnant, Fonny has a mother, Victoria Rogers, the woman who’s been sexually assaulted, she’s pregnant. She’s not showing but she’s pregnant. It’s all this idea of mothers. I thought, “Oh, here is something that I can see uniting these characters,” and that’s when we gave Dave Franco the line, “I’m just my mother’s son.” Sometimes it’s that idea that makes the difference between us and them; not black and white but people who have been loved and the people who haven’t.

This was adapted with I think much respect and deference to Mr. Baldwin, but that was one of the places where I’m really proud of how I was able to fuse my voice and his.

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If Beale Street Could Talk

Posted on December 27, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Acohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence, references to rape
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 25, 2018
Date Released to DVD: March 26, 2019
Copyright Annapurna 2018

When I interviewed writer/director Barry Jenkins about “Moonlight,” we talked about the movie’s haunting score, composed by Nicholas Britell. “Many directors would use songs of the era to place the audience in the film’s three time periods,” I said. “Two things,” he replied. “First, we could not afford the rights to those songs. But more important, I believe these characters deserve a full orchestral score.”

I thought of those words as I watched Jenkins’ latest film, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” based on the 1974 novel by James Baldwinmy #1 film of 2018, and winner of the Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Film Spirit Awards. There were moments when it did not feel like I was watching the film. It was more like I was immersed in it, as though I could feel it pulsing through my veins. The entire theme of the movie could be, “These characters deserve a full orchestral score” along with the highest level of every other creative and aesthetic element available to a filmmaker, from Baldwin’s lyrical words to the luscious cinematography of “Moonlight’s” James Laxton, another gorgeous score by Britell, costumes that carry the narrative and illuminate the characters, and performances of infinite sensitivity and humanity.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” succeeds brilliantly at one of cinema’s most central functions: a love story with sizzling chemistry between two impossibly beautiful people. Stephen James (“Race”) and newcomer Kiki Layne are 2018’s most compelling romantic couple, pure pleasure to watch. Their relationship is in every way the heart of this story, the reason we feel so sharply the injustice and, in some ways harder to accept, the resignation that is the most undeniable signifier of generations of institutional racism. We see that most powerfully when Oscar-winner Regina King, as the girl’s mother, looks in the mirror as she prepares like a matador entering the bullring for a meeting that could make all the difference for the couple. She cannot expect much, but she has to try. Throughout the movie, there is resignation and diminished hopes but there is also resilience. And “Beale Street” reminds us that undiminished and imperishable love abide: romantic love, the love of parents and siblings, even an unexpected encounter with a warmhearted landlord. There is the love Baldwin and Jenkins have for these characters. And, most of all, it reminds us that this is a story that deserves to be told with the best of what movies have to offer, including a full orchestral score.

James and Layne play Fonny and Tish, childhood sweethearts who are young and deeply in love. He is wrongfully arrested for rape by a bigoted cop with a grudge and is in jail when Tish tells him that she is going to have a baby. We see what happened before and what happens after in a jazzy, non-linear form, luscious images and exquisite performances. This film is a masterpiece, like its characters of a time nearly half a century ago, “ready,” and exactly right on time.

Parents should know that this film includes explicit sexual references and situations, references to rape, unjust charges and abuse of the justice system, racism, and some peril and violence.

Family discussion: Why does Sharon take off her wig? Why do the mothers respond so differently to the news of the baby?

If you like this, try: “Moonlight” from the same writer/director and the books of author James Baldwin

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Based on a book Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues movie review Movies -- format Race and Diversity Romance


Posted on October 27, 2016 at 5:33 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: NR (some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout)
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs and drug dealing, alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Bullies, beating, disturbing images, sad offscreen death
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, homophobia
Date Released to Theaters: October 28, 2016
Date Released to DVD: February 27, 2017 ASIN: B01LTHZVM4
Copyright 2016 Plan B Entertainment
Copyright 2016 Plan B Entertainment

In the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Picture, a man tells a young boy a story, and, as with many stories adults tell children, especially in movies, it is a story with a purpose. Juan (Mahershala Ali) tells the boy derisively known as “Little” (Alex Hibbert) that when he was young, a woman saw him at night and told him that the silvery moonlight made his dark skin looked blue. She said he should be called Blue from then on. But, he tells Little, he wasn’t. “At some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”

In “Moonlight,” a film of a delicate, shimmering beauty that measures up to the title, the boy will struggle to make that decision for himself. Three chapters, as a child, a teenager and a young man, played by three different actors, are labeled with three different names that he is called: the taunting nickname Little, his birth certificate name Chiron (played by Ashton Sanders), and the nickname given to him by someone who had a profound impact on him, Black (played by Trevante Rhodes). Who will he decide to be?

The story begins in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami. Little runs from bullies and hides out in a crack house, where he is discovered by Juan, a kind-hearted drug dealer. Little won’t talk, so Juan takes him home, where his warmhearted significant other, Teresa (singer Janelle Monae) gives little some food and lets him stay the night. The next day, Juan brings Little back to his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), a nurse who loves Little but leaves him alone much of the time. “He can take care of hisself. He good like that.”

In the second section, he is a skinny teenager all but abandoned by his mother, who has become addicted to drugs, and bullied at school. He still does not talk much, but he has one friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who calls him Black. Chiron cannot even acknowledge to himself that he wants more from Kevin, but one night on the beach, they share a piercingly sweet moment of tenderness that will indirectly lead to an act of violence.

When we see him again, he is a man, with an armor of muscle and gold teeth grillz, still almost silent, still almost isolated. But a call from Kevin inspires a journey.

The film is based on a play called “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by McArthur awardee Tarell Alvin McCraney, who worked with director Barry Jenkins (the lovely romance “Medicine for Melancholy”) on adapting it for the screen. Both McCraney and Jenkins, like Little, had mothers who struggled with addiction, and Jenkins grew up on the Liberty City setting of the film.

The small miracle of the movie is the way it subverts the expectations the audience has based on news reports and many, many other movies. Every character is authentically complex. The graceful, poetic score by composer Nicholas Britell gives the story epic scope and heartbreaking intimacy.

We see Juan’s kindness and wisdom as he holds Little gently in the ocean, teaching him to swim and, more important, giving him an idea of what a man can be. We hear his thoughtful answer when Little asks him what “faggot” means. And yet, when Paula wants drugs, Juan supplies them, even knowing what it will do to Little. The confident, capable Kevin casually mentions time in prison as though it was an inevitable rite of passage. Little/Chiron/Black is physically transformed from chapter to chapter. We are continually challenged and confounded, yet held close to the heart of the story by its romantic lyricism and, most of all, the spacious humanity of its love for its characters.

Parents should know that this film includes very mature material: bullying, brutality, drug dealing and drug abuse, very strong language including homophobic slurs, sexual references and explicit sexual situations.

Family discussion: Why does the main character have a different name in each chapter? What do you think happened to Juan?

If you like this, try: “Medicine for Melancholy”

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Based on a play Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week GLBTQ and Diversity Race and Diversity
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