By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
“The Photograph,” from director/screenwriter Stella Meghie (“Everything, Everything”)
is a sophisticated, multi-layered romantic dramedy. It’s not often we see black love stories with such richly developed, characters that are given room to breathe and grow.
Romantic comedy king Will Packer (“Girls Trip” and upcoming “Ride Along 3”)
co-produced the film and his imprint is noticeable and welcome.
“The Photograph” involves intertwining stories that are set in the past and present and stars the latest on screen “It” couple, Issa Rae
(TV’s “Insecure”) and LaKeith Stanfield
(“Knives Out,” “Get Out” and TV’s “BoJack Horseman”).
The first part of “The Photograph” takes place in the 1980s. We know this because of the hair and clothes, but also from the sweet, seductive sounds of Anita Baker (“Caught Up in the Rapture”) and Whitney Houston (“You Give Good Love”) playing in the background More on the movie’s great soundtrack later.
This love story begins with a young Isaac Jefferson (a terrific Y’lan Noel, “The First Purge” and TV’s “Insecure”), a good-hearted crab fisherman in Louisiana who is in love with Christina Eames (Chante Adams, “Roxanne, Roxanne” and “Monsters and Men”). However, neither Louisiana nor Isaac have enough to keep Christina by the bayou. She’s a talented photographer and longs to move to New York and pursue a career in that field. That commitment thing will have to wait. Isaac is heartbroken.
Flash forward to the present and we meet Michael Block (Stanfield), a handsome, charming and well-respected magazine reporter who is also looking to spread his wings for greener pastures. He recently got out of a long-distance relationship and is questioning his next personal and professional move, which could include a plum job in London.
Michael is traveling to Louisiana to do a story on an oil spill and is interviewing Isaac (an excellent Rob Morgan, “Just Mercy”) who is much older now, but entertaining and worth his time. Isaac relays his sad song to Michael about how he regrets not being able to hold on to Christina, the love of his life.
Michael is also struck by a photograph that Isaac has on his mantle. It’s a picture of Christina. When Michael gets back to New York, he has his buddy and co-worker Andy (Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (“Luce, “Waves” and TV’s “The Godfather of Harlem”) to find out more about Christina. He discovers that she has an estranged daughter named Mae (Rae). She’s doing well for herself too.
Mae works as an assistant curator at a New York art museum. She’s trying to stay focused on her work and come to grips with the recent death of her mother and understand a letter that she left her along with a black-and-white photo. Both items will play a significant role in Mae’s life. Fortunately, Mae has her father (Courtney Vance, TV’s “Lovecraft Country”) to help her cope during this difficult time.
Of course, Michael and Mae meet. And yes, it’s really love at first sight, but both are carrying some baggage and are approaching the whole dating thing with extreme caution.
Their conversation is awkward and funny in all the right places. Their non-verbal communication; those long, lusty glances they give each other let you know something is about to jump off soon. Their story plays out slowly and convincingly and that’s what really makes “The Photograph” feel so special and different than the average rom-com.
It’s serious and yet seriously funny at times. When a hurricane is about to touch down it forces the couple to stay with Michael’s brother Kyle (a funny Lil’ Rel Howery, TV’s “The Chi” ), his wife Asia (Teynonah Parris, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) and their adorable little girls who instantly bond with Mae and spill the beans on Michael’s old flame that may not be completely extinguished yet.
Those used to seeing Rae in all out-comic mode particularly in last year’s hit movie, “Little,” will be surprised at how contained and reigned in she is in “The Photograph.” It’s actually a pitch perfect performance. More sensual than sexual and one that plays so well alongside Stanfield.
Their chemistry soars especially during conversations about music. Michael likes Kendrick Lamar and Mae prefers Drake. However, they both love the old school soul of Al Green, Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye. “The Photograph” is chockfull of R&B anthems and boasts a jazz and bluesy original score by multi-Grammy winning recording artist Robert Glasper, as well as songs from Lucky Daye, notably “Fade Away” as well as Grammy award winner, H.E.R. You’ll want this CD.
There’s a turn of events in “The Photograph” that you can see coming, but by then you’re so captivated by Stanfield and Rae and rooting for them to find a way to make their relationship work, it’s hardly a letdown.
"The Photograph" is a beautiful picture that aims for the heart and doesn't miss.
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Check Out This Trailer For "THE PHOTOGRAPH"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of The Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.