If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins Directs Faithful Adaptation of Beloved James Baldwin Classic

  In 1974, James Baldwin published “If Beale Street Could Talk,” a love story, set in Harlem, about a beleaguered black couple’s pursuit of the elusive American Dream. Many critics consider the heartrending novel Baldwin’s best work, perhaps because of the way in which it humanizes an array of African-American characters ordinarily marginalized and relegated to the shadows of society. 

  Now, Barry Jenkins, director of 2017’s Oscar-winning Best Picture, Moonlight, has brought a faithful adaptation of the revered classic to the big screen. The poignant coming-of-age tale co-stars Kiki Layne as 19 year-old Tish Rivers and Stephan James as her 23-year-old fiancé, Fonny Hunt.

  At the point of departure, the star-crossed lovers are already behind the proverbial 8-Ball. Narrator Tish informs us that her beau, an aspiring sculptor, has recently been arrested for rape. Then, during a jailhouse visit, she lets him know through the frustrating glass partition that he’s going to be a father.

  Fonny takes the news of the pregnancy in stride, which is more than can be said for his family, especially his disapproving mother (Aunjanue Ellis) and sisters (Dominique Thorn and Ebony Obsidian). Fortunately, Tish’s feisty mom, Sharon (Regina King), is up to the challenge of getting everybody to stop pointing fingers self-righteously in favor of focusing on the blessing of a baby that’s coming.

  Meanwhile, Fonny’s impending trial looms large. For, despite an airtight alibi, he was ostensibly framed by a racist cop (Ed Skrein) capable of cavalierly framing a black man for a crime he didn’t commit. 

  Hope for justice rests with getting the alleged rape victim (Emily Rios) who fingered Fonny at the direction of Officer Bell to tell the truth. But she’s moved to Puerto Rico, making the prospect of her recanting in court unlikely, unless Sharon is willing to go to extraordinary lengths in quest of exoneration.

  All of the above unfolds in fascinating fashion against a variety of visually-captivating backdrops. Kudos to Barry Jenkins for crafting another compelling inner-city saga, and especially for coaxing a career performance out of Regina King, a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity and sexuality
Running time: 117 minutes
Production Studio: Plan B Entertainment / Annapurna Pictures / PASTEL
Studio: Annapurna Pictures

 

OPENING THIS WEEK 
Kam’s Kapsules
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Christmas 2018

 

WIDE RELEASES

Holmes & Watson (PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexuality, drug references and crude humor) Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly co-star as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, in this crime comedy which finds the legendary sleuths trying to stop arch-rival Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) from assassinating Queen Victoria (Pam Ferris). With Rebecca Hall, Hugh Laurie, Steve Coogan and Kelly Macdonald. 

Vice (R for profanity and violent images) Christian Bale portrays Dick Cheney in this seriocomic biopic recounting the ambitious politician’s career from Beltway bureaucrat to most powerful vice president in U.S. history. Featuring Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, Sam Rockwell as President George W. Bush, Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld.

 

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

American Renegades(PG-13 for profanity, violence and brief sexuality) Suspense thriller about a team of Navy SEALs that goes rogue upon discovering a treasure trove of gold bullion worth billions at the bottom of a lake in Bosnia. Co-starring J.K. Simmons, Sullivan Stapleton, Charlie Bewley and Joshua Henry.

Destroyer (R for violence, sexuality, drug use and pervasive profanity) Gritty tale of redemption revolving around a veteran LAPD detective’s (Nicole Kidman) attempt to track down the participants in a tragic bank robbery that’s been haunting her for over a decade. With Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany and Sebastian Stan.

On the Basis of Sex (PG-13 for profanity and suggestive content) Courtroom drama revisiting a groundbreaking, sex discrimination case argued by Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) early in her legal career. With Kathy Bates, Sam Waterston, Armie Hammer and Justin Theroux.

Stan & Ollie (PG for smoking and mild epithets) Bittersweet biopic about Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) recounting the legendary comedy team’s 1953 reunion in Great Britain for a comeback concert tour. Supporting cast includes Danny Huston, Stephanie Hyam and Susy Kane.

They Shall Not Grow Old (R for graphic images) World War I documentary featuring unseen footage and commemorating the centennial of the conflict. Directed by Peter Jackson.

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