- 11 Mar 20
Exploration of love across generations remains sadly underdeveloped
Name a mainstream non-comedy romance film about two black characters, that isn’t largely defined by hardship and tragedy. Compared to the amount of romance films featuring white characters, and the amount of films featuring black characters enduring oppression, violence and tragedy, the number of films just letting black characters be in love is depressingly low.
Enter The Photograph, directed by Stella Meghie (Insecure, Grownish). Insecure’s Issa Rae plays Mae, a Queens gallery curator who has just lost her mother Christina, a talented photographer who once said during an interview, “I wish I was as good at love as I am working. I wish I didn’t leave people behind so often.”
It’s a sentiment understood by Michael (Lakeith Stanfield, Sorry To Bother You), a journalist working on a story about Christina in the midst of a break-up and a possible move to London. When he meets Mae, however, these two ambitious, emotionally guarded characters fall for each other quickly, and struggle with how much of themselves they want to give. Flashbacks to 1980s Louisiana show young lovers Christina (Chanté Adams) and doting fisherman Isaac (Y’lan Noel) navigating the same struggle, as Christina feels stifled by small-town life.
It’s fine to have low stakes in a multi-generational exploration of love, but Meghie’s screenplay sadly doesn’t flesh out the bare-bones plot with compelling character detail. Michael and Rae’s conversations are dull and unenlightening, and their characters are always defined in relation to other people; Christina and Mae are compared to their mothers; Michael to his settled-down brother. There’s also a lack of chemistry between Stanfield and Rae, and a badly edited PG-13 sex scene doesn’t help. Likewise, the soundtrack of atmospheric jazz strives to inject tension, turmoil and passion, though only emphasises how little of that we see onscreen.
Rob Morgan (Just Mercy) as an older Isaac gets the knock-out line of the film, saying of Christina, “I didn’t know how to be with a woman I had to keep up with.” It’s a level of insight and emotion the film should have brought to all of its characters. But The Photograph remains (sorry) underdeveloped.
Written and directed by Stella Meghie. Starring Issa Rae, Lakeith Stanfield, Chanté Adams, Y’lan Noel, Lil Rel Howery, Courtney B. Vance. 106 mins.
In cinemas now.