There is an inordinate weight of expectation on Barry Jenkins’s third feature, If Beale Street Could Talk. His previous film, Moonlight, won three Oscars in 2018, including Best Picture (after La La Land’s mistaken-award chaos), and was nominated in five other categories. Furthermore, this is the first English-language film adaptation of a work by celebrated African-American writer James Baldwin, whose oeuvre includes his 1953 semi-autobiographical novel Go Tell It on the Mountain.
Like Moonlight, Jenkins’s latest observes the disadvantage inherent in the black American experience. It uses a time-hopping narrative shot with poetic tenderness. While easy-to-follow flashbacks and flash-forwards heighten the inevitable tragedy between the two young lovers at the film’s heart, their romance is wrapped up in too much poetic tenderness to make this as satisfying as its predecessor.