First Hit: From a visual and craftsmanship point of view this film was outstanding; however, the story languished in its beauty.
The crafting of beautiful scenes and moments was enhanced by an instrumental soundtrack and excellent camera work, but the story lost its impact as it unfolded.
As the book’s author pointed out, this is a story about anyone growing up black in America. He felt that Beale Street, New Orleans, was representative of any street in any city where black suppression existed.
Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James) are shown as childhood friends taking a bath. As their lives grow, the film conclusively shows how they’ve grown up together as friends, and there is an underlying affection towards each other.
As the film dances between Fonny in prison for a crime of rape, he did not commit, and their beginning of an intimate relationship, we see the back stories of how their relationship grew and their respective families.
Tish’s family is supportive of a nineteen-year-old Tish being pregnant with a twenty-one-year-old Fonny’s child. They are happy and want to embrace this new addition. However, Fonny’s strongly religious mother and daughters are not. The scene when Tish invites Fonny’s mother, father and two daughters to her parent’s home to share the news that she’s pregnant with their son’s child was exceptionally well done.
The power of different points of view between the two mothers was very well staged. To the ends that Tish’s mom Sharon (Regina King) worked to find Fonny’s accuser to help the case to free Fonny from prison, was juxtaposed with Fonny’s mom, Mrs. Hunt (Aunjanue Ellis), not being involved in assisting Sharon in releasing Fonny. This aspect of the film was very telling.
The film makes it a point to show discrimination by showing and discussing the difficulty of Fonny and Tish finding a place to live, before his being incarcerated. There was also the policeman that placed Fonny at the scene of the supposed rape, who was looking to get back at Fonny for another encounter. These and other scenes showed how blacks were racially discriminated against.
The difficulty in this film is sharing this story in the way that the novel was created because it languishes as it goes from scene to scene. I’m not sure how it could have been done differently.
Rivers was excellent as Tish. She was both strong and vulnerable in many scenes. The tomato shopping store scene and her telling her family she was pregnant are great examples. James was excellent as the creative artist and Tish’s lover. I loved how he continually showed his love for Tish through his words and eyes. King was fantastic as Tish’s supportive mother. Her willingness to find Fonny’s witness was powerful. Ellis was great as the religious fanatic mother. This small but pivotal role was felt throughout the film, especially at the end when Tish and her son visit Fonny in prison. Michael Beach and Colman Domingo as Fonny’s and Tish’s fathers respectively were fantastic. As men sitting in a bar discussing how to care and provide for their grandchild to be wonderfully realistic. Barry Jenkins wrote and directed this film. Although this is a compelling story, at times, it was not as engaging as it needed to be.
Overall: This was a good film, and many of the actors were superb, but on the whole, it didn’t quite work.