If Beale Street Could Talk

Rated 3.0

Two years ago, with only a 2008 no-budget feature and a few short films to his credit, writer-director Barry Jenkins shepherded a cast of unknowns, a rookie editor and a cinematographer best known for shooting Kevin Smith movies to Oscar glory with Moonlight. A film that was both grounded and mythic, realistic and dreamlike, Moonlight took generalities about the African-American experience involving identity and injustice and made them deeply personal, cathartic and transcendent. In adapting James Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk, Jenkins pulls the reverse trick, turning the specifics of early 1970s Harlem back into free-floating generalities about the African-American experience. The lyrical tone and aesthetics remain, but you can feel the weight of expectations pushing down on If Beale Street Could Talk. The crushing need for this follow-up to be on that same level of “significance” as its award-winning forebear seems to constantly breathe down the film’s neck.