A Test Of Love

If Beale Street Could Talk
Stars: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Ed Skrein, Emily Rice, Michael Beach and Aunjanue Ellis
Director/Scriptwriter: Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”) adapted from the novel by James Baldwin
Composer: Nicholas Britell
Cinematography: James Laxton
Plan B Entertainment/Annapurna Pictures
Rating: R for sexual themes and violence
Running Length: 120 Minutes

*Note: 2019 Oscar Nominations include Regina King as Best Supporting Actress, Nicholas Britell for Original Soundtrack and Barry Jenkins for Best Adapted Screenplay

The setting is Harlem in the 1970s. This story is adapted from the late author James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The audience meets the two main characters, Alonzo (“Fonny”) who is 22 and his girlfriend, Clementine (“Tish”) who is 19.  They fall in love and the obstacles in front of them are formidable indeed; not quite like “Romeo and Juliet,” because a baby is involved here, but similar family situations and clashes within their environment.  Can you right a wrong or do you go with the flow? A Solomon-type question.  Kiki Layne is Tish and Stephan James is Fonny and you go with them on their journey along with the soundtrack by Nicholas Britell.

The film is told in flashbacks and in set pieces like scenes of a play. Tish and Fonny have been friends for a long time and falling in love just came naturally. Fonny works in wood and has a talent in wood design. Tish works at the perfume counter in a large department store. It is a prime job and she says she got it because the management thought it was bold to hire a woman of color in that department - it is the 1970s.  Eventually, Tish is pregnant and must tell the family, consisting of Mom (Regina King), Dad (Colman Domingo), and sisters. The family is taken by surprise, and after the initial shock, decide to invite Fonny’s family over to tell them the news.  It is Mrs. Hunt (Aunjanue Ellis), Mr. Ellis (Michael Beach) and their two daughters. The shock hits Mrs. Hunt and she goes on a religious rampage against Tish. Fonny and Tish look for an apartment and find a loft they can afford. Fonny is accused of a rape and arrested. The woman who accused him flees out of the country and it is up to Tish and her family to get the money for a lawyer and try to find this woman as the police do not believe Fonny’s alibi. Fonny is now in prison. The film began with Tish saying she hopes no one else in love has to speak to their loved one behind glass. Obstacles continue along the way.  Is love enough here?

Actress Regina King gives a power performance as Sharon, the mother of Tish. She is the backbone of the family and non-judgmental toward her daughter’s choices. When Sharon goes in pursuit of the woman who accused Fonny, we see someone out for the truth. In one scene, similar to a scene from the Viola Davis television series, “How To Get Away With Murder,” Sharon experiments with changing her appearance by wearing a wig.

Kiki Layne and Stephan James as Tish and Fonny are in love, and in their own world, but the rest of the world of the 1970s wants to intrude with deception. The camera centers on their faces and Tish’s eyes speak volumes.  They are not at the poverty level, but careful with spending money. Kiki describes her job at the perfume counter and what happens with shoppers on a daily basis.  As we see the people around them, from relatives to friends, we see a black community dealing with inequality on a daily basis and the choice is to ignore and continue onward.  One of their friends spent two years in prison for car theft even though he couldn’t drive a car. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Beale Street could be a street in any city of the U.S. It learns to be silent and continue on sheltering the people who live there. One wonders in the year 2019 if the street would be so silent?


Copyright 2019 Marie Asner