If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

This is one of the most critically acclaimed films I’ve seen so far this year. And I can see why; the performances are mesmerising, and the film looks beautiful. It’s an important tale of race and relationships. It just….it wasn’t for me. I found the story-telling too slow and fragmented. Things happen and then are forgotten about, 20 minute scenes cover what could take just 2 minutes, characters you think are going to be important end up appearing in one scene and then disappear.

It’s a shame as it is a wonderful film, you feel an entire universe in this film, every character seems to have a backstory you can’t wait to explore. It’s a fantastic slice of the characters life that we explore. It’s just narratively frustrating. Slice-of-life films are risky as they can end up lacking a definitive story. Some of them I do love (Ghost World in particular will always be a favourite), but some just kind of annoy me. This was in the second category. It’s mainly about someone in jail for a false rape allegation after he was framed by a racist cop (thank god THOSE aren’t a problem in America anymore). It feels like the story is building towards the trial, but that’s skipped over at the end and we go to about 3 years later. It’s a powerful ending as it illustrates how the system can just keep delaying trials to keep people incarcerated until they get frustrated and accept a plea bargain. It’s just a shame that it’s not done well; they give us this information by narration, and it doesn’t really feel natural. The film doesn’t really make us feel as frustrated at the system as it should to make that feel effective. It does it once or twice, but you never really get the sense that this is his only option.

I feel I need to mention the narration again. There’s waaaaay too much of it. The film doesn’t like silence or ambiguity, so if there’s a scene which would be silence and we have to actually think about what the characters motivations are, we get narration straight out telling us. It’s frustrating and doesn’t seem to mesh well with the overall aesthetic of the movie. Everything about this movie, from the story, to the look, to the name actors in small parts, just screams ARTHOUSE cinema, yet the needless narration makes it seem like it’s aimed at mass market. I suspect that’s not the case and it’s just the most effective way to get a lot of things from the book in. I just really wish they found another way.

This review has seemed overly negative I get that. But everything positive about is stuff you’ve already heard. I would recommend seeing this film, and I am glad I saw it, and I do know it was an absolute superb piece of film-making, it just wasn’t for me, and that’s okay. Everything is not for everyone, and that’s okay.

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