If Beale Street Could Talk review: a slow tragic romance

KiKi Layne as Tish and Stephan James as Fonny in If Beale Street Could Talk.
KiKi Layne as Tish and Stephan James as Fonny in If Beale Street Could Talk.

IF Beale Street Could Talk is a tragic romance that unfolds so slowly on screen that it struggles to remain engaging.

New Yorkers Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) are best friends until they become lovers amid the hardship of life as African Americans in the 1970s.

Their world turns on its head when Fonny is jailed for a crime he did not commit and 19-year-old Tish discovers she is pregnant with his child.

Based on a novel by renowned US author James Baldwin, the film is director Barry Jenkins’ follow up to his 2016 Best Picture Oscar-winner Moonlight.

Visually, the movie is stunning with bright 70s’ costumes set against the drab background of the poorer parts of New York, with a dreamlike glossiness infused in every scene.

The colourful era contrasts with the wretchedness in the character’s lives, which makes the events easier to watch but creates a distance that reduces the emotional impact.

Nonetheless, the effect of Fonny’s imprisonment on Tish and his family is heartfelt, along with the lengths they take to prove his innocence.

The scene where Tish reveals to their families that she is pregnant is a standout.

Her own family react with love while Fonny’s evangelical mother and sisters display horror.

However, the romance between Tish and Fonny hogs much of the screen time and is told in such a way that leaves the audience feeling like voyeurs.

As beautiful and trusting as their relationship is, it is not interesting enough to bear the weight of a two-hour film.THE ESSENTIALS

If Beale Street Could Talk (CTC)

Directed by: Barry Jenkins

Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King

Three stars

Review by Lucy Rutherford

In cinemas February 14