"If Beale Street Could Talk" Excerpt
Josh: The last time most of us saw him, Adam, writer/director Barry Jenkins was accepting Oscars for 2016's "Moonlight," including, quite dramatically, Best Picture. That sort of success gets you a lot in Hollywood. It's one reason I still like to keep an eye on the awards, and indeed, Jenkins used his newfound clout to pursue a passion project – an adaptation of James Baldwin's 1974 novel, "If Beale Street Could Talk," set in 1970s Harlem. The plot centers on a troubled young couple – Fonny, played by Stephan James, who is awaiting trial in prison after being falsely accused of rape, and his girlfriend, Tish, played by Kiki Lane, who is desperately working to clear his name while also carrying their child. Though an adaptation like this is no easy task, Jenkins surely had more resources at his disposal post-Oscars than he did while making "Moonlight." I wonder if you saw any particular evidence of that on the screen, Adam. In many ways this is clearly the work of the same filmmaker in terms of style and sensibility. But is there anything about the movie that reveals Jenkins taking these resources, this opportunity to even more fully come into his own powers? In short what impressed you most? I already know you liked it.
Josh: So what impressed you most about "If Beale Street Could Talk?"
Adam: I loved it actually, and there's so much I can outline that really impressed me. I don't begrudge anyone certainly who prefers "Moonlight," to, "If Beale Street Could Talk," who perhaps even thinks it's the more provocative or challenging film. I don't probably agree with that, but either way for me, "Beale Street," is no less of an achievement. I think you could actually point to its ambition compared to "Moonlight," at least in terms of its scale. The sheer number of characters and the scope of, "If Beale Street Could Talk," is grander than "Moonlight," and the audacity of trying to harness James Baldwin's language, and his mixture of the personal and political. Maybe as well – and we'll talk about this I hope in a little bit more detail – the way Jenkins doubles down here on the influence of Wong Kar-wai. The lushness of this film is something that we saw elements of, undoubtedly, in "Moonlight," and here he's taken it to another level. I just want to say my experience with this movie, as we've joked a little bit about cramming all of these films in last minute. And we will confess a lot of them to not having the greatest viewing experience because, unlike "Roma," which we did both see on the big screen we both watched, "If Beale Street Could Talk," from the comfort of our couches.
Adam: And maybe not ideal, especially when this happens often. You're very excited to watch a movie – of course you are! You have high expectations – it's Barry Jenkins. Why wouldn't you? But it's a weeknight and you're tired and you know almost nothing about the movie except it doesn't promise to be an easy sit. I suspected that I was going to see some bad things happen to good people in this movie and I apologize if that didn't get me pumped up to throw, "If Beale Street Could Talk," in my DVD player. And then the movie starts and within seconds all of that tension and all of that trepidation just dissipates, which doesn't mean I didn't end up wrecked watching some very bad things happen to some very good people. But really for me, Josh, from frame one, I was so swept up in this romance – the central relationship between Tish and Fonny, and the romanticism with which Jenkins renders that relationship – that I was comfortable observing this world for as long as Jenkins would let me do it. I think it really sunk in from the opening sounds – not even the images, but the opening sounds of Nicolas Britell score.
Josh: Oh, it's a great score.
Adam: There's a melancholy to it, an elegiac quality to it, a deepness, and a resonance that grounds it in the harshness of the world that surrounds these two lovers. But it also often flutters and occasionally soars. And I think for me it really just... It hints at a spirit that is all powerful and eternal, just like this love is, and then we see that manifested in the cinematography as well. I could go on and on but I want to hear what you thought.