If Beale Street Could Talk ★★★½

For a simple melodrama whose story would not be out of place in a cheap heart-tugging setting such as a TV movie, sad-sack novel, or an episode of DR. PHIL, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK sweetly elevates its story of a young, wronged black couple to an important tale, social in nature and national in scope.

BEALE STREET establishes an upsetting backdrop of systemic wrongs and difficulties that automatically disadvantage millions of African Americans. But Jenkins' storytelling doesn't yell his frustration through his direction by villifying people or institutions. He doesn't create heroes or bad guys out of any characters. He relies on his simple struggle of a young committed couple to paint his picture of life's unfair playing field. And the juxtaposition of the couple's day-to-day struggles with employment, family, and self-discovery against a system with built-in inefficiencies and racist mechanisms is more than enough to make a clear, strong, loud statement about the fabric of society. Jenkins has found a way to make an angry statement without being angry, and instead sticking with the hopeful message of love & commitment.

At the end of the day, though, BEALE STREET's central story isn't that strong a character piece despite strong performances all around, especially from Stephan James, Kiki Layne, and Regina King. Jenkins's gift, though, seems to be an ability to elevate the material. His camera and his editing are subtly, and effectively kinetic. And the editing makes great use of beautifully framed front-on shots of the actors and an elegant warmth in its cinematography. Jenkins' gorgeous visual style is the ultimate gift to a slow-moving drama.

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