3 (out of 4)
Barry Jenkins wasted no time substantiating the overnight wunderkind reputation chiseled out by his Oscar-winning breakthrough Moonlight, which snagged the Best Picture award in the most memorable fashion conceivable. With an adapted screenplay he apparently penned at the same time on a European summer vacation, If Beale Street Could Talk lives up to a quick update on the director's fresh prominence – it’s a nuanced drama and textured romance intertwined, threaded with relevant themes and sincere social commentary.
His early trademarks of point-of-view perspectives and fidgeting with the focus pay off strikingly well here, as Jenkins' identifies the central innocent love story for its remote delicacies while delivering melodrama with all the aplomb a great modern play might deserve. For every bit of hype behind Regina King’s performance – she’s practically destined beyond nominations to win for Best Supporting Actress – her turn is absolutely devastating. Her character’s convictions and superb dialogue have only remote relation to the raw emotion King funnels through the role.
Our leads are also great – Jenkins not only has a sharp eye for casting but an intuition as to how to draw the most vital vulnerability from his actors. Jenkins was quoted as saying shooting is his favorite part of directing because of the scope of possibilities each take provides. It may be an inevitable comedown following Moonlight’s transcendence but, if nothing else, the effectiveness drawn from KiKi Layne and Stephan James leaves Beale Street worth observantly strolling along.
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