Follow TV Tropes


Film / If Beale Street Could Talk

Go To

If Beale Street Could Talk is a 2018 romantic drama written and directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), based on the novel of the same name by James Baldwin.

Set in the early 1970s, Clementine "Tish" Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo "Fonny" Hunt (Stephan James) are childhood friends whose relationship blossomed into romance as adults. Their fledgling union is tested, however, when Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn't commit, and Tish learns she's pregnant with his child. With the help of both their families, Tish is set on clearing Fonny's name, even if the institutional racism of the times makes it an uphill battle for everyone involved.

If Beale Street Could Talk contains examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: The film has a non-linear structure that interpolates flashbacks throughout events happening in the present.
  • Asshole Victim: Played with in Victoria's case. She falsely accused Fonny of rape and had him wrongfully jailed which she shows no remorse for, making Sharon's trip totally in vain. However she was in fact raped by someone else and simply doesn't want to relive the trauma, or get anywhere close to the mess she made after the fact which would likely incur more repercussions on her. It's also unseen if the officer influenced her decision to pick out Fonny.
    • When Tish even disbelieves that Victoria was raped, Sharon even has to, gently, remind Tish that Victoria was likely in such a state of trauma when she brought to identify Fonny.
  • Babies Make Everything Better / Babies Ever After: The birth of Tish and Fonny's child helps the story end on a positive note.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible: When Sharon goes to Puerto Rico she gets virtually no help at all in clearing Fonny's name, and comes home empty handed. Everyone involved is simply trying to stay as far away from any future controversy as possible.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the end, Fonny accepts a plea deal and all the money spent for his trial and for Sharon's trip to Puerto Rico end up being pointless. But one day, Fonny will be released and get to spend time with his family after all his pain.
  • The Cameo: The film features brief turns by Diego Luna, Dave Franco, and Pedro Pascal.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Tish and Fonny were childhood friends, and their relationship becomes romantic in adulthood.
  • Clear Their Name: The main plot thrust of the story, following Tish's attempts to get Fonny out of prison.
  • Cool Big Sis: Ernestine towards Tish.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Fonny is very quick with the witty quips. Ernestine is this as well.
  • Dirty Cop: Officer Bell, who is complicit in having Fonny sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit.
  • Domestic Abuse: Fonny's father strikes his mother when she reacts negatively to the news of Tish's pregnancy. It's not clear if this is a usual occurrence or not. Given the fact that she just openly wished for Tish and Fonny's child (and thus her own grandson and that of her husband) to die in the womb, it doesn't come across quite as heinous as it could have.
  • Epiphanic Prison: Danny's trauma, even after being paroled, is evident and seems to be something that will stick with him forever.
  • Hellhole Prison: The idea of prison itself, both in Danny's trauma and Fonny's slow deterioration in every visit. He becomes more disheveled, apparently physically wounded, and emotionally unhinged and prone to outbursts the longer he stays in there. Though we never see what happens behind bars, it's framed as indescribably horrible.
  • Jerkass: Fonny's mother and sisters only appear for one scene, but they firmly establish themselves as rude, contemptuous, holier-than-thou and genuinely mean-spirited within its confines, to the point that the former openly wished for her grandson to perish in the womb. However...
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While she puts it in the single worst way possible, Fonny's mother isn't wrong that Tish's situation at the time is rather grim and that she doesn't have the skills, education or income to provide for her future child on her own.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Pietro Alvarez comes across as impatient and rather flippant towards Sharon's wish to meet Victoria and help Fony get out of prison, but he is simply trying to spare Victoria the trauma of having to relive the night of her rape and does come around to helping Sharon.
  • Mama Bear: Both ways. Fonny's mother and sisters attempt to come for the Rivers family after learning Tish is pregnant. Sharon doesn't have it.
  • Mama Didn't Raise No Criminal: Zig-Zagged. Fonny's own mother says this might be God's plan to make her son repent of his sins (she's just heard he fathered a child out of wedlock), and claims Tish has somehow been his undoing. It's actually Tish's family who appear to be most convinced of his innocence (perhaps because almost all of the scenes are from their point of view), with their skepticism of the evidence presented as justified. Tish's mother comes closest to invoking the trope, telling Victoria that she's known Fonny since he was a child and wouldn't let her daughter marry a rapist, which isn't an argument Victoria finds convincing.
  • Obviously Evil: Officer Bell couldn't look creepier if he tried.
  • Papa Wolf: Frank physically lashes out at his own wife for laying a fire and brimstone-style death wish upon their unborn grandbaby. Later, upon realizing that Tish won't be able to adequately provide for their grandson with Fonny in jail, Frank and Joseph resort to stealing designer clothing to resell in the neighborhood, knowing that if they get caught they could also end up in jail.
  • Period Piece: Set in The '70s, when the original novel this film is based on was published.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: This is a given considering the time period and subject matter. Officer Bell patronizingly calls Fonny "boy", and the man who sexually harasses Tish in the same scene calls her "brown sugar".
  • The Power of Love: The movie goes out of its way to show you just how important Fonny and Tish's love, and the love of their families, has been in their lives. The power of love seems to be able to fix anything, making it all the more heartwrenching as it repeatedly fails against the prison industrial complex.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Tish is ultimately unsuccessful in getting Fonny out of prison, who grows frustrated with the lack of progress in his case and accepts a plea deal, which keeps him imprisoned long after the birth of their child.
    • Sharon's trip to Puerto Rico to speak with Fonny's accuser is a major plot point in the third act, but it ends up being a bust, and she returns to New York without helping Fonny's case.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Downplayed, as Tish is nineteen when she becomes pregnant, possibly having the child when she's twenty.
  • Vacation Episode: Sharon's trip to Puerto Rico is a significant sequence in the film, but averted in the sense that she's not there for leisure.