Rated R. While the film isn't overtly sexual in nature, there is some sex and nudity on screen. There is also pretty intense language and some mild violence. The entire movie is a little bit on the bleak side, so some of this violence is directed towards women. This is a world of hate and racism. This isn't the Disneyfied racism of some films. Rather, this completely lets the audience see what racism looks like. R.
DIRECTOR: Barry Jenkins
I think that I'm starting to undertake too much. I'm starting to get a little bit frayed. I got this big spike in readership and I absolutely adore it. But if I missed a day of writing before, I knew that my small amount of followers would be able to handle it. Now, if I skip a day, I'm going to lose thousands of readers. My problems, am I right? I will say that watching movies with that kind of pressure on me places undue stress on the movies themselves. If I'm rougher on If Beale Street Could Talk, I think I might have to chalk it up to that. I had only so many minutes in a day and I'm rushing to get this done. I apologize in advance.
When the Academy Awards released their list, I knew that there was little chance of me seeing If Beale Street Could Talk. I watched the trailer with my wife and we both thought that the trailer looked absolutely phenomenal. But it came out right at the tail end of 2018. There were so many movies and If Beale Street Could Talk wasn't in the running for any of the huge categories. The digital release wasn't going to happen before the Oscars actually premiered, which means one thing: I probably wasn't going to watch it. It's a terrible mentality, but I will knock out almost every single entry in every single category...until I find the results. I don't really get the kick in the pants to watch these movies after it's over. I know. That makes me a bad person. A good movie should be a good movie. But I also know that it is kind of a big ask to ask my wife to watch yet another movie when sometimes we just want to watch silly things. Regardless, we are absorbing content. I didn't realize Barry Jenkins directed this movie when I was watching it. Okay, that's not completely true. I knew that Barry Jenkins directed this movie, but I didn't remember what I knew Barry Jenkins from. Now that I have IMDB up on my other tab, yeah, it totally makes sense. Barry Jenkins is the Moonlight guy. I wasn't the biggest Moonlight fan in the world. But what Jenkins got completely perfect about Moonlight was that it didn't pull punches. If Beale Street Could Talk is about not pulling punches. It isn't being raw to be raw, but rather showing that America has become completely inhospitable to minorities and people of color. I'm going to compound that statement by saying that America is even worse to women of color. If Beale Street Could Talk is something special in a way that I have to kind of take apart for a second. Beale Street isn't the first politically charged narrative ever. I tend to lean that way nowadays. I could chalk it up to a lot of things, but I know what major moment in recent history has probably inspired that. But Barry Johnson actually has something unique with his politics here. Most films that are politically charged focus on one element of an experience. If the movie is focused on racism, it is focused on just racism. If the movie is focused on prison reform, the movie is just focused on prison reform. Guns, drugs, whatever. Political movies tend to have a bit of a blinders thing on. I can't say that's the worst movie in the world. Films tend to have about two hours to convince their audience that a movement is important enough. At the same time, they can't really be preachy because the film needs to still have emotional and entertainment value. (These are broad strokes. I don't want to get "No True Scotsman"ed right now.) But If Beale Street Could Talk removes the blinders from the message. It says that all of these things are connected. Racism is tied to sexism. Prison reform is tied to both. Rape accusers should be believed, but that doesn't mean that corrupt police officials won't take advantage of that. If Beale Street Could Talk is important, not because it is a complex moral tale alone. It's because it treats its morality as complex, yet frustrating. Characters in the movie view white America as scheming and deceptive and they may be right. This isn't the world where there are happy endings because we deserve happy endings. This is a world where the goal lines are constantly being pushed back and there is nothing that the characters can do about it. It's not saying that there aren't good white people. I know that is a knee jerk reaction that people can have. But it says that having some good white people isn't enough. The entire system needs to be reformed and that doesn't look like it is really going to happen.
I was distracted while watching the movie. Nothing says, "Enjoy a movie" than having to do the mental math about whether or not I can finish the whole thing during a few lunch breaks. But I don't know if I can pin all of that on the timeline. Like Moonlight, the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at. You have these absolutely unstoppable performances throughout the piece. With the exception of one moment that felt like a stage performance, everything is executed almost flawlessly. But there are large swaths of time that didn't grab my attention. Part of that can probably be chalked up to the fact that Barry Jenkins is a slow burn kind of director. His characters get to these changes very slowly and almost inperceptively. Yes, the characters do change. I love how the age of these characters is repeated throughout the film that this is a more-important-coming-of-age film. Characters are both making physical changes in their lives, but these changes match their emotional changes as well. I didn't know that this movie was what it was going to be. Looking at the trailer, I thought that the movie was going to focus on the two families coming together. That scene in the trailer is in the movie and it is even more powerful in the context of the film. Also, the scene is way more R-rated than the trailer version. But I honestly thought that the movie was about two ideologies and finding ways to move around it. Instead, the movie is really about Tish rather than her baby. The baby is coloring the entire story. I don't want to diminish the fact that her unborn child is a motivating factor in a lot of this film. But Tish's pregnancy grounds the timetable of the film. There is a sense of urgency to get Fonny out of prison based on the growth of her stomach. The justice system, if I had to pick one thing out of the whole rigamarole that I listed above, might be the centerpiece of the film. With Tish's baby on the horizon, what seems to be a small stay in jail while things are settled in the real world becomes a story of lies and deceit. I think of Eva DuMarnay's 13th and how much of the world might be unaware of what the justice system really is. I want to believe in the justice system. I think I would live a better life if I could wrap my head around the fact that people in prison deserve to be there. But there seems to be more and more evidence that says that institutionalized racism produces shortcuts towards convictions. But where is the focus? Yes, the movie is important, but it doesn't forget that it is a story first and a means to change second. It doesn't prioritize so much as it realizes that good stories and good art make the difference when eliciting change. Think about Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath. (Sorry, I'm a big Steinbeck fan.) Okay, think To Kill a Mockingbird. Those stories wear their messages on their sleeves. But those stories, while being powerful, resonate because we relate to the characters.
Before I publish this analysis, I want to look at the story of the other grandmother. I mentioned that I thought that this was the center of the story to begin with. But it is something of a telling moment. The scene is really something that leaves you in a polarized place. Mrs. Hunt is toxic. She is the kind of character that instantly makes you cringe, especially if you are of a religious background. She is full of hate and uses her hate to justify her actions. She thinks that she is among the righteous and that is the worst. She treats Tish and the rest of the family like dirt. That's even before the big pregnancy reveal. But then we have her husband, who at first comes across as sympathetic. He almost comes across as saintlike because he puts up with Mrs. Hunt. But then we see the abuse. It's such a moment. She has disdain for him, but her hurt isn't specifically from the hit. It's the fact that, for a moment, she looked weak in front of Tish's family. That's really something dark. What is their life like? They maybe inhabit six minutes of the movie? Six consecutive minutes. They never come back. I thought that they were going to be throughout the film. Mr. Hunt shows up for a second scene after he's been shown to be a terrible human being. But these characters are deep. We have kind of an over-the-top racist cop. We have lots of characters who aren't really developed, but some of the smaller characters of the movie are deep. We have Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, but we also have the guy from Atlanta, Brian Tyree Henry. He plays Daniel maybe for three minutes. But that moment gives us such insight into the true horrors of the prison system. Also, Dave Franco is just a character that has even less of a role in the overall story. Why are these the characters that are developed? The story is named If Beale Street Could Talk. I can't help but get a connection with The House on Mango Street. If this story is about Tish and Fonny, maybe they are only a small part of the overall story. Tish narrates the events, very much like Mango Street. These other characters are fleshed out and developed, possibly as a sign that they are the protagonists of their own narratives. Daniel's life is terrible off camera. That might be a very real thing that the storytellers wanted to communicate.
It's a bummer that I was stressed out about watching this movie because everything about it was very impressive. I need to backlog some of these and find them enjoyable once again. I never really wanted this blog to become a job.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.