If Beale Street Could Talk
‘Plea’ release me, let me love
By far and away the best dramatic film I have seen this awards season, it is clear from the first frame (overhead—wonderful touch of many) that Jenkins’ realization of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel is as true to the author as it is universal to any race or creed trying to survive in “white man’s” world.
The principals (KiKi Layne as narrator/prime mover Trish; Stephan James superb at every turn playing her lover, then wrongfully accused “Fonny”— “They told me to choose him from the lineup”—have the ever-so-rare on-screen chemistry to bring Baldwin’s lovers to cinematic life.
A special shout-out must go to Regina King playing the extra-born-again matriarch of Fonny’s clan, whose very-specialized interpretation of “love” might well elicit cheers in the cinema when her long-suffering husband, Joseph (Colman Domingo) gives her a punch in the chops after seeming to be five-times holier than anyone.
James Laxtom’s cinematography—notably for its expertly slow pans during important one-on-one dialogues—supports the tenor and tone beautifully.
Aided and abetted by Miles Davis tracks and a cello ensemble evoking aural memories of Rossini’s Overture to William Tell, Nicholas Britell’s original score fits the dramatic action to a T.
But by journey’s end, sensitive viewers will realize that this “adaptation of a novel” has much more to say across the planet than “just” the still troublesome circumstances of the black-white U.S. divide.
Being born a mere six years after rock legend Freddie Mercury, it was particularly fascinating for me to watch this a-tad-too-long biopic listening to every song (except “We Will Rock You”) for the first time (Beethoven captured my heart at an early age).
Nonetheless, I was most certainly aware of Mercury’s passing due to complications from HIV/AIDS (1991) as I began my “next” life as a gay man in 1989.
Without a doubt, Rami Malek’s portrayal of the troubled rock star should earn him an Academy Award nomination—his lip synching leaves little to quibble about and his on- and off-stage gyrations seem believable at every turn.
Naturally—it is a movie—the writing trust (Anthony McCarten, Peter Morgan) plays a bit fast and loose with the truth (notably Mercury’s relationships with Paul Prenter—Allen Leech—and Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker essentially an also ran in this scenario), while focusing more on Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton never truly given her lines to morph from “love of my life” to fag hag—but artfully setting up Mercury’s “almost everything” line after proclaiming himself a bisexual…).
Mercury’s fellow bandmates are well-served (notably by Gwilym Lee as Brian May and Ben Hardy’s rhythmic take on Roger Taylor).
The book ends of this production are the 1985 Live Aid concert where Queen regrouped and captured—again—the hearts and imaginations of hundreds of thousands of people.
What a pity, in 2018, the potential of that sort of fund-raising effort on behalf of the world’s starving and refugees is as long gone as Mercury’s ascension to fame, before hoisting on his own petard. JWR