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February 16th, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk: *1/2

A few years ago, filmmaker Barry Jenkins captured lightening in a bottle with “Moonlight.”

It’s a magical film. It’s a unique, bittersweet tale of first love. It’s an empathetic exploration of a life spent in the closet. It introduced Mahershala Ali as the leading actor of our time.

“Moonlight” was so magical that it was able to win Best Picture even though Faye Dunaway had already given the award to “La La Land.”

The magic is gone.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” tells the story of Tish and Fonny: a black couple living in New York City in the early 1970s. Tish is pregnant; Fonny is in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.

About ten minutes into the film, there is one great scene. Tish’s family has invited Fonny’s family over to announce the pregnancy. The dialogue reads like a great play, where every character gets one awesome, scene-chewing speech.

Fonny’s holy roller mom does not take the news of Tish’s pregnancy very well. She stands up, gets in Tish’s face, and tears into her. She calls Tish a Godless Louisiana whore. The churchgoer calls the embryo a shriveled devil child who she hopes will not survive. The tirade only ends when her husband gives her a brutal slap with the back of his hand.

The reason I just gave away the one good scene is because the rest of the movie is so unwatchable. I earnestly urge you to skip it.

The very next scene is a ridiculous flashback to the first time Fonny and Tish make love. I had no idea it was possible to make losing one’s virginity look so dull.

How do you have an entire love scene without either character smiling or looking interested? How do you have your pretty young leading lady take her top off and have it seem clinical and tedious? It’s an astonishing achievement in incompetent filmmaking. Fonny and Tish are making a baby. But by the solemn, pained looks on their faces, you’d think they were ritualistically sacrificing one.

It feels like half the movie is just Fonny and Tish staring at each other and whispering passionless proclamations of love. And I do mean whispering. One of the film’s biggest problems is that the 70s mood music drowns out the hushed dialogue. The result is a little frustrating and a little sleep-inducing.

I imagine that there was a lot of: “this seems like a bad movie, but Barry Jenkins has got a Best Director Oscar so I don’t feel comfortable questioning his decisions” on the set of “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The end result is an unfocused art film that is painful to sit through.

“Moonlight” was magic. But the magic is gone. “If Beale Street Could Talk” is the most boring movie of 2018.

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