If Beale Street Could Talk First Reviews: A Sublime, Poetic Follow-Up to Moonlight

So far, Barry Jenkins has earned near universal praise from critics in Toronto for his adaptation of the James Baldwin novel.

by | September 10, 2018 | Comments

Barry Jenkins may not have another Best Picture on his hands with If Beale Street Could Talk, but initial reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival are mostly just as smitten with the Moonlight follow-up. Highlighting the film’s empathy, cinematography and music, the near-unanimous praise also proclaims it a worthy adaptation of James Baldwin’s classic novel and possibly a tribute to one of Hong Kong’s greatest filmmakers.

Check out what the first round of critics are saying:

Is it a worthy follow-up to Moonlight?

Moonlight was no fluke… If the film isn’t the year’s best, it will come mighty close.
Radheyan Simonpillai, Daily Hive

[Jenkins brings] the same deft directorial solutions and emotional subtlety to the James Baldwin novel.
Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail

[It’s a] sublime follow-up to his Oscar-winning 2016 masterpiece.
Jason Bailey, The Playlist

If this movie doesn’t have the immediate, intimate power of Moonlight, it feels just as accomplished.
Norman Wilner, NOW Toronto

[It’s] certainly more accessible, in outline at least…far from the dreamy naturalism of Moonlight.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

[The] tone is more Little Miss Sunshine than Moonlight for much of Jenkins’ third (and third-best) feature.
Peter Debruge, Variety

What does it say about Jenkins as a filmmaker?

If Beale Street Could Talk will be the end of Jenkins’ introduction. He now enters the halls of the greats. Moonlight was not a fluke, but the first of many. I cannot wait to see what he has in store next.
– Joelle Monique, Pajiba

[This] should further establish Jenkins’s bonafides as a legitimately great, consistent director.
– Chris Bumbray, JoBlo

[It’s] a movie that only hints at the filmmaker’s potential.
– Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

Annapurna Pictures
(Photo by Annapurna Pictures)

Will fans of Baldwin’s novel appreciate the adaptation?

Barry Jenkins has crafted a visual lyrical poem out of Baldwin’s raw and impassioned words.
Joelle Monique, Pajiba

Jenkins captures the humor, verve, and considerable complexity of the prose.
Jason Bailey, The Playlist

The source material he has at his disposal, although incredibly moving on page, feels almost unfilmable on screen.
– Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

What about fans of a certain Hong Kong filmmaker?

Romantic snippets invite readymade comparisons to Wong Kar Wai.
– Eric Kohn, IndieWire

The two [leads] seem to float in slow motion in the scenes before trouble strikes, often suggesting a direct homage to Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love.
– David Rooney, Holllywood Reporter

The big moments are the small and rapturous scenes with Tish and Fonny together, sensuously photographed with James Laxton’s Wong-Kar Wai inspired cinematography.
– Radheyan Simonpillai, Daily Hive

How are KiKi Layne and Stephan James?

These are star-making turns from Layne and James, the latter in particular making a searing impact.
Benjamin Lee, Guardian

The movie mostly belongs to Jenkins’ two young leads, who never fail to make their joy and pain luminous onscreen, even if it’s all a little too simplified and idealized.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

Newcomer Layne is one of the most exciting people to happen to film in a long time… Layne guides the story with strength and patience. Know her name.
Joelle Monique, Pajiba

[KiKi] Layne isn’t experienced enough to shoulder the responsibility of persuading us through what could have been a more compelling journey.
Rubin Safaya, Cinemalogue

Annapurna Pictures
(Photo by Annapurna Pictures)

Do they have chemistry?

Both newcomer Layne and Canada’s own James are marvelous, so perfectly in tune when together that you still feel their connection when they’re apart.
– Radheyan Simonpillai, Daily Hive

The palpable chemistry between Layne and James makes Tish and Fonny indisputably the heart of the film.
– David Rooney, Holllywood Reporter

A pairing whose chemistry charms and bewitches – with every scene we feel more engaged and then enraged when they’re pulled further apart.
– Benjamin Lee, Guardian

Can we expect any supporting nominations?

Regina King… should probably start pulling some awards-show gowns now.” .
– Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

Riveting and fraught with sadness. King owns every second she’s onscreen.
– Eric Kohn, IndieWire

King… is profound.
– Joelle Monique, Pajiba

The marvelous King is a quiet powerhouse throughout… it’s rewarding to see this superlative actress being put to strong use in a movie again.
– David Rooney, Holllywood Reporter

What else stands out about the film?

The film is achingly beautiful, each frame artfully composed…with a wider canvas and what appears to be a bigger budget than he had for Moonlight, Jenkins has created a film rich with lingering imagery, without it feeling too over-stylized.
– Benjamin Lee, Guardian

Composer Nicholas Britell gives Tish and Fonny orchestral string pieces so haunting and poignant that one pull of the bow feels like hours playing inside these intimate images.
– Matt Donnelly, The Wrap

Every music cue is intoxicating, imparting a bevy of connotations and echoes; does any contemporary filmmaker (aside from Scorsese, the standard-bearer) use popular music more evocatively.
– Jason Bailey, The Playlist

Annapurna Pictures
(Photo by Annapurna Pictures)

Are there any problems?

We just aren’t invested enough in the characters for it to connect as meaningfully as it deserves to.
– Rubin Safaya, Cinemalogue

Jenkins builds up a slow-moving narrative that doesn’t always hit the mark.
– Jordan Ruimy, World of Reel

The intermittent use of archival photographs of black men being brutally subjugated by white police and prison guards seems intended to provide the heft that’s missing in the main story.
– Liam Lacey, Original Cin

At times it can feel a tad unfocused.
– Benjamin Lee, Guardian

How many Oscar nominations will this one rack up?

The entire cast will be in the conversation when it’s time to decide who will go home with a trophy.
– Joelle Monique, Pajiba

It’s too good for the Oscars, I say. But then again, I said the same thing about Moonlight.
– Radheyan Simonpillai, Daily Hive

If Beale Street Could Talk premiered on Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it opens in limited release on Friday, November 30. Read all the reviews for it here.

Adjusted Score: 97.11%
Critics Consensus: If Beale Street Could Talk honors its source material with a beautifully filmed adaptation that finds director Barry Jenkins further strengthening his visual and narrative craft.
Synopsis: Set in early-1970s Harlem, If Beale Street Could Talk is a timeless and moving love story of both a couple's... [More]
Directed By: Barry Jenkins (III)

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