FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2018 -- Barry Jenkins' adaptation of James Baldwins' novel If Beale Street Could Talk could have gone the route of many other "Look what the white man done to black folk" films, but instead turns to the core element - a love story.


Instead, it expresses a love story that happens to take place during a time of blatant racial turmoil. And the Beale Street that is referred to is not the famous party street in Memphis but an area in 1970s Harlem, new York. So much like "The Green Book", we get the northern slant to race relations in the not-too-distant past.


Through the eyes and voice of Tish Rivers (newcomer Kiki Layne) is described a relationship with a neighborhood boy - Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) - who comes from a bible toting family headed by a hoity-toity mother (Aunjanue Hunt) and drinking father Frank (Michael Beach) with two hoity-toity sisters. Tish's family is headed by her mother Sharon (Regina King) and dad Joe (Colman Domingo); she has a supportive, but in-your-face big sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris).

Tish and Fonny had been friends since childhood, so it was natural that they would wind up together, though his mother thought the Hunts were beneath them. But as they grew older he became an artist and she went to school. When he made enough to get his own artist loft, he proposed.


Of course, everything blows apart when a Puerto Rican woman falsely accuses Fonny of raping her and he is locked up by a white cop who just doesn't like him. The film describes how Tish and her family work tirelessly to get Fonny off the hook despite the fact that she is now with his child.


Delivering a fabulous first timers performance is Kiki Layne who brings a certain amount of naivete to Tish's role as a young 70's black girl full of ambition. But it is Regina King who delivers a noteworthy turn in a deeply nuanced performance as Tish's mother who cares more for Fonny's out come than even his own mother. Her desperate quest near the end of the film is authentic.


Stephan James isn't that compelling, but he does compliment Layne's performance. Domingo and Beach are perfect in-their-element brothers who have no problem sticking it to the man, which was the popular thing in 70's Harlem.


Director Jenkins successfully creates and adapts James Baldwins 13th book in a way that bookends 2016s "I Am Not Your Negro" - going from documentary to novel.


"If Beale Street Could Talk" is the fourth African American directed film featuring a mostly all-black cast that is very award worthy. Although it's not likely, it creates a scenario of an interesting Awards season.   -- GRADE A --   GEOFF BURTON