If Beale Street Could Talk.

Beale Street

By Joanna Langfield

Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the James Baldwin novel is so beautiful it hurts.

With Moonlight and now this, Jenkins has established a signature vision, seeing reality though a prism of love. While his stories are very human and warm, he refuses to ignore the cold realities facing not just his characters but us, watching them. Here, with the love story of a young New York City couple in the 1970’s, we can’t help but fall in love with them, and most of their families, too.  From the outset, we know theirs is not an easy road. And the reasons for that, mostly dealing with the all too real history of false charges against African American men, are still very much with us today.

Tish (the wonderful newcomer KiKi Layne) and Fonny’s (a very fine Stephan James) childhood friendship has deepened into a devoted and romantic love. Just as the two are establishing themselves, Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit. The film time travels, not always smoothly, between pivotal scenes of their relationship, before and after his imprisonment.

The love we witness here is not just romantic. We see the unwavering love of family, the blind love of God, the loving kindness of Yarmulke and cross-wearing acquaintances. The marvelous Regina King is the mother we should all be so lucky to have. And a short scene, where Tish’s father holds her as she suffers pains of pregnancy is one of the most touching film moments of the year.

But Jenkins makes his societal points, reminding us of the harshness lurking at the door. Landlords won’t rent to a black couple. Fonny’s friend whispers of the horrors he faced when, framed, he took a plea. Families hustle to help their own. Altered and aware, they, and we, go on.