IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

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In a better world, If Beale Street Could Talk would be nothing more — and nothing less — than a beautiful love story, merely the sweetly sexy blossoming of passion between 19-year-old Tish (glorious newcomer KiKi Layne) and family friend Fonny (Stephan James), whom she grew up with. Fonny describes his regard for her like this: “Just remember that I belong to you.” Which is simply one of the most romantic things I’ve ever heard, and not only because it’s the utter opposite of the possessiveness with which men onscreen typically express desire and connection with a woman. In a better world, Beale Street would let us and The Movies have Fonny — a handsome, sensitive artist — as the straight-up, uncomplicated catch that he is.

We don’t live in that better world. Tish and Fonny are black, and they live in 1970s New York City. (Not that anything here would be much different if the film were set today. But the film is based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel.) They face dehumanizing racism at every turn. The unreconstructed misogyny Tish faces from other women — Fonny’s religious mother (Aunjanue Ellis) and sisters — when she announces that she is pregnant with Fonny’s child is another smack in her face, another reminder than she is seen as Less Than by too many people. If Fonny’s swoon-worthy declaration is the fantasy side of Beale Street, then the directive of Tish’s sibling (Teyonah Parris) to “unbow your head, sister” to look hostility in the face, unashamed and with pride, is the fist of this film. Continue reading…

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at FlickFilosopher.com, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her Women On Film archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).