‘The Photograph’ review: revolutionary romance eschews conflict of the classic rom-com

LaKeith Stanfield stars in a love story where the characters actually try and work it out

“I wish I was as good at love as I am at working” are some of the first words uttered in The Photograph. It’s a sentiment that holds true for multiple characters in Canadian director Stella Meghie’s fourth movie (following The Weekend, Everything, Everything and Jean Of The Joneses). Telling a series of intertwining Black love stories set in the past and in the present, this old-school romance is all the more seductive for being devoid of the overt conflict that accompanies many similar movies.

In the here and now is Michael (Lakeith Stanfield), a reporter working on a story about recently deceased photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams). His work leads him to Christina’s daughter Mae (Issa Rae), a museum curator who is putting on an exhibition of her late mother’s work. While sparks fly in the present we learn about Christina’s story via flashback, as she navigates her relationship with fisherman boyfriend Isaac Jefferson (Y’lan Noel).

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It’s clear that Meghie’s goal with the interwoven storylines is to reveal parallels between the relationships in each timeline, but her execution is only occasionally successful. Children repeating the mistakes of their parents is just one of many fertile themes that feel a touch underserved here; in this instance we’re repeatedly told about Mae and Christine’s estranged relationship rather than being shown it.

The Photograph
Asia (Teyonah Parris) and Kyle Block (Lil Rel Howery) in ‘The Photograph’. Credit: Universal

Thankfully the performances across the board are fantastic. Rob Morgan – whose recent credits include Just Mercy, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and This Is Us – once again showcases his impressive range as an older and wiser Isaac recounting his bittersweet story. Get Out’s Lil Rel Howery also provides welcome comedic relief as Michael’s settled-down brother, balancing out Stanfield’s chilled demeanour with playful quips.

As for Stanfield himself, he’s able to communicate intense attraction with a single glance. It’s a weapon that’s effectively utilised throughout the film. Rae’s Mae is the recipient of every single smitten look, and although at times her delivery is stilted the less guarded her character becomes the better her performance gets. Indeed, The Photograph is at its best when the two leads are courting one another; a scene in which they debate Drake vs. Kendrick Lamar proves to be the most entertaining example of their easy chemistry. Speaking of music, Robert Glasper’s score is a jazz-infused delight that’s easy to get swept up in – and the soundtrack also features bangers by Luther Vandross, Al Green, and Anita Baker – while cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard’s lens exquisitely showcases dark-skinned Black beauty.

For the first time since the 1990s gave us films like Love Jones, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and Love & Basketball, it feels like Black love stories are making a resurgence on the silver screen. And although it may not have the edge of Queen & Slim or If Beale Street Could Talk, focusing on two successful characters falling for each other and trying to work things out makes The Photograph subtly revolutionary.

Details

  • Director: Stella Meghie
  • Starring: LaKeith Stanfield, Chelsea Peretti, Teyonah Parris
  • Release date: March 6
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