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If Beale Street Could Talk

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Two years after making the leap from struggling indie auteur to Hollywood hotshot with Academy Award-winning gay drama Moonlight, Barry Jenkins returns with If Beale Street Could Talk, a politically-charged romance adapted from James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) are a young African-American couple with a baby on the way. But a dark cloud hovers over their future, as Fonny is awaiting trial for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. Tish sets out to prove her beau’s innocence, but the systemic racism she encounters makes her quest seem futile. Aesthetically, it’s a sumptuous affair, with lingering close-up shots of the photogenic star-crossed lovers, and a melancholy score by Nicholas Britell. Narratively, it’s a touch more heavy-handed than the understated Moonlight: a sequence in which Tish announces her pregnancy to Fonny’s puritanical female relatives feels emotionally manipulative. But overall, this is one of the strongest American films of the past year. Jenkins must therefore have felt a little peeved when it secured a meagre three Oscar nominations in January.

If Beale Street Could Talk | Directed by Barry Jenkins (US 2018) with KiKi Layne and Stephan James. Starts March 7.

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