This was a stranger movie than I anticipated! Oddly, not sure if I loved it. That goes against brand.
This does not go against Barry Jenkins’ brand. It is very clear this is the same director who made Moonlight—the lyricism, the gorgeous score, shots painted with colors almost too beautiful to believe, shots close on beautiful black faces as if the camera is caught suspended on a musical note, as if we’re wondering who is holding whom in contemplation. But I feel now like the people who didn’t go in for Roma, who say: I appreciate its technical mastery of filmic beauty, but it just wasn’t in my stars; it left me a little cold. Roma took my heart. Moonlight took my heart. If Beale Street Could Talk didn’t quite.
This is not to say tears didn’t bloom in my eyes at moments, because they did (Regina King, ohh Regina King). But there was something about the line deliveries in this one I think, this slow cadence that kept me just a hand’s breadth apart, thinking “old stage play” for some reason, even though the performances could hardly have been less traditionally theatrical (those close-ups! film was invented for those close ups! this is a movie!) (I do love it by the way, when a director’s great love for cinema seeps into their works—Jenkins’ characters asking one another if they want to go see a movie, Cuaron’s actually going, last year Del Toro’s living above a film house…)
Ultimately, how I really know the peaks and valleys of my feelings just didn’t find the right register with this one, is that far and away the most profound emotional moment I experienced was when, miracle of miracles, Diego Luna magically appeared onscreen with nothing more to do than be a kind dear lovely restaurant owner for a few moments, the kindest dearest and loveliest you ever saw, and so overcome was I with how much I love him that I genuinely collapsed a little onto my friend’s shoulder. Diego Luna is the most charming man I think I have ever seen. He is like a living candle.
Anyway this has been my hopelessly inadequate review of Barry Jenkins’ poetic adaptation of the James Baldwin novel If Beale Street Could Talk, in which Diego Luna appears for about a minute and a half. In 2019 we own our melt points, and this one of mine (Diego Luna).