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If Beale Street Could Talk

The James Baldwin adaptation from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins is now in theaters.

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Metacritic score: 89

For his follow-up to Moonlight, which won Best Picture in 2017, director Barry Jenkins chose to adapt James Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk. Set in Harlem, the story centers on a young black couple (played by Stephan James and newcomer Kiki Layne) who grew up together and fell in love. But then conflict takes over — not originating from inside their relationship, but pressing in from the outside world.

If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful, expressive film, at times feeling like a tone poem or lyrical plaint, with a stacked cast that also features Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, and Brian Tyree Henry. It’s set in the 1970s, but thanks to the way it confronts how sexual assault allegations, policing, and racism can interlock for communities of color, it feels incredibly contemporary, too. It’s hard not to fall under its beautiful, somber, lustrous spell, and as a story about black American life framed as a love story, its images are indelible.

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