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Movie Review

Tish and Fonny fell in love.

But theirs was certainly no typical boy-meets-girl story of a random encounter, steamy glances and flaring passions. It was better. Far better.

You see, Tish and Fonny had known each other since childhood. They used to play together, romp in the mud together, bathe together. They cared for each other, matter-of-factly, almost as if they were siblings. The truth of it is, their love came to a boil very slowly. It warmed and bubbled degree by degree, until one day they were both flush with its fire.

One thing led to another. Love deepened. Plans were made. And Tish and Fonny were sure that their romance would endure. They'll marry, they thought, start their family and thrive.

But some other unexpected events occur in a whirlwind rush: Fonny is accused of rape, picked out of a police line-up and sent to jail thanks to the manipulation of a racist cop he'd crossed. And Tish realizes she's pregnant and left without a partner.

Like a punch to the gut, Tish is left gasping. And just as love with Fonny seemed about to blossom to the full, they both must grapple with the brutal reality of hate and its terrible consequences for their lives.

Positive Elements

It's obvious from the start that Tish and Fonny are deeply in love. And though they don't marry before Fonny is incarcerated, they speak of their plans to do so. They even call each other "my wife" and "my husband" during visitations at the prison. "I belong to you," Fonny assures Tish.

Flashing backwards a bit, when 19-year-old Tish tells her family members about her pregnancy, her mom, dad and sister are all taken aback by the news. But they quickly embrace her with loving care, demonstrating their support and willingness to stand up for her. They also do their best to help get Fonny out of prison, calling in favors, traveling to track down witnesses and scraping together whatever money they can.

When Tish begins to crumple under the strain of things, her mother tells her, "Love is what brought you here. And if you trusted love this far, trust it all the way."

On Fonny's side of the family, his dad expresses similar support. He hugs and congratulates Tish and speaks of his deep love for his son.

Spiritual Content

Fonny's mother is a Christian, and she mentions that she prays repeatedly for her son to see the light and "surrender his soul to Jesus." That said, she's also portrayed as a mean-spirited woman who wields her understanding of faith spitefully to condemn and belittle others. For example, she tells Tish that "the Holy Ghost" will cause Tish's illegitimate baby to shrivel in her womb.

Tish prays before a meal with Fonny and a friend. The couple's young son prays before eating a snack with his dad, and the boy asks for Jesus' blessing. A Jewish man (who's wearing a kippah) and a Jewish woman both go out of their way to treat Fonny and Tish fairly. The man states that his live-and-let-live attitude was learned under his mother's instruction.

Sexual Content

We watch Tish and Fonny's physical relationship grow from a first kiss to (eventually) impassioned lovemaking. Two sex scenes (one of which is quite lengthy) include garments being removed, breast nudity, bare torsos, and explicit sounds and movements.

Later, Tish (who's obviously unclothed) gives birth in a tub full of water, though we see only her bare shoulders and knees. (In another flashback, we see Tish and Fonny playing in a bathtub together, both wearing underwear.)

While working at a perfume counter, Tish is revolted as a white man seductively lifts her perfume-sprayed hand to his nose and lingers there with a creepy gaze in his eye.

A woman accuses Fonny of raping her, even though he was on the other side of town at the time.

Violent Content

When Fonny's mother tracks down his accuser and grabs her shoulder, the woman (who apparently has been physically abused) screams in agony and crumples to the floor.

Fonny's father, Frank, strikes his wife in the face and drives her to the floor after she says hurtful things to Tish. On a visit to prison, Tish discovers Fonny is bruised and bloodied from a beating he took there.

In a flashback, we see an encounter where a white man got physically aggressive with Tish, prompting Fonny to grab him by the scruff of the neck and throw him into a pile of trash.

Crude or Profane Language

Ten f-words and some 20 s-words join a handful of uses each of "d--n," "h---," "a--" and "b--tard." Someone mixes "Holy Spirit" with the word "d--ned." The n-word is used four or five times, and the c-word is used once. We also hear several crude references to male genitalia.

Drug and Alcohol Content

People smoke throughout, including Fonny, an artist who's often seen puffing profusely as he works on various sculptures. Fonny offers a guest "pot, beer or coffee." A room full of elderly people all smoke and drink alcohol.

When Tish breaks the news of her pregnancy to her family, her mom breaks out a bottle of cognac, and the family toasts to "new life." Tish's dad, Joseph, and Fonny's father, Frank, go to a bar together, drinking and smoking while discussing their kids' future. Fonny downs multiple beers with an old friend as well.

Other Negative Elements

Tish talks about the plight of blacks in America, saying: “The kids had been told that they weren’t worth sh--, and everything they saw around them proved it. They struggled, they struggled, but they fell, like flies, and they congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives, like flies.”

The film uses that lyrical statement, as well as images of black destitution and physical abuse, to imply that crimes committed by blacks are sometimes justified due to such an oppressive racial climate. The film also strongly states that because of white hatred and oppression, justice for blacks is nearly impossible.

As an illustration of those points of view, Frank and Joseph begin to steal and sell stolen goods out of the back of a van in order to raise what little money they can to defend a falsely accused Fonny. "The white man ain't met nobody they ain't robbed from," Joseph declares in justification.

A racist white police officer—who is a truly rancid individual—seems to be used as a representation of the "white man" of the world.

Conclusion

Director Barry Jenkins' critically acclaimed 2016 film Moonlight took home several Oscars, including awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Without question, Jenkins is adept at painting vivid and immersive emotional pictures with his films, a skill set that's evident once again in If Beale Street Could Talk.

Not only is this movie a love-letter adaptation of writer James Baldwin's 1974 novel of the same name, but to a certain extent, it's a love story: a well-crafted and adoring examination of black family life and love. We see family members who cherish and endure, and we watch people struggling against difficult situations, clinging to each other and pushing back against a terrible injustice. Those story moments are undeniably powerful.

But those potent musings on love, family and commitment are not all this film showcases. It also decries the racist reality that its characters feel hopelessly trapped within.

Some of the injustices they face here are horrific and indefensible. That said, the film also paints its picture of racial injustice with a very broad brush. At times, it feels as if it implicates anyone who's white as being an agent of racist oppression. For instance, a friend of Fonny's declares, "The white man has got to be the devil, because he sure as h--- ain’t no man." Similar messages are voiced repeatedly by the film and its characters. And there's no call here for anything like racial healing, harmony or reconciliation.

So when that heavy-handed message is mingled with ample helpings of profanity and sexually explicit imagery, the result is problematic. If Beale Street Could Talk is a movie that many might talk about, but it's a love story that's also difficult to embrace.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

KiKi Layne as Tish Rivers; Stephan James as Alonzo 'Fonny' Hunt; Regina King as Sharon Rivers; Colman Domingo as Joseph Rivers; Michael Beach as Frank Hunt; Teyonah Parris as Ernestine Rivers

Director

Barry Jenkins ( )

Distributor

Annapurna Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

December 14, 2018

On Video

March 26, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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