Flicks With Nicki – ‘The Photograph’
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“The Photograph” was released on Valentine’s Day and during Black History Month, but don’t assume this non-traditional romance is just for couples and Black people.
The story weaves between the past in Louisiana and present-day New York City. Michael (Lakeith Stanfield) is a journalist who interviews Isaac (Rob Morgan) but is sidetracked when he notices a black and white picture of a woman. Michael goes in search of details about the mysterious photographer Christina. He meets her daughter Mae (Issa Rae), and their bond is immediate. The stories of Christina and Issac mirror Michael and Mae. Two stories about the choices we make for love and for ourselves.
In the flashback story, Christina (Chanté Adams) has a tense relationship with her mother. Christina is sweet but determined to go to the big city, New Orleans or anywhere different. Her mother dislikes young Isaac (Y’lan Noel) for being a simple fisherman. Christina recognizes his goodness and love.
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In the present, Michael isn’t interested in another relationship, but Mae is different. She is the curator of the Queens museum. She has an eye for art just like her mother. Michael writes for The Republic, and he knows how to ask the right questions. Their conversations are easy. They share a quick attraction. The conflict? Michael has the same desire for change that Christina felt. He wants to move to London. As Mae develops feeling for him, she receives two letters from her mother Christina. One for Mae. And one for her father.
Normally, I don’t like romantic dramas. I rarely enjoy romantic comedies. Romance on screen is often superficial and false. Unless it is a five-part mini-series starring Colin Firth, I’m not buying it. Then I saw “The Photograph.”
I love this movie. I love young Isaac. I love mature Isaac. I love Mae. I love Michael’s boss (Chelsea Peretti). How many times have I sat through a movie with a bad boss? In this movie, Michael has a great and smart boss. The intern at his office is a good friend. He has a wonderful brother and sister-in-law.
Mae has a loving father Louis (Courtney B. Vance). She has good friends at work, too.
In a traditional Hollywood love story, love is the answer. Love means running through the rain. Love means stopping the wrong wedding. Love is lies and betrayals and evil ex-girlfriends. “The Photograph” is like a documentary. What if normal people fell in love? What if good people fell in love? What if their friends and family, though not perfect, are basically good? What if our difficult choice might take us from love and still be the right choice?
As much as I loved “Parasite,” it was a movie about terrible people. Terrible, lying, selfish people whose actions continually hurt other people. For all the ways I loved “Parasite,” I recognize that “The Photograph” is its true opposite. Both are character studies. One of good people. One of bad. Both about people faced with difficult decisions.
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Stella Meghie is the writer and director behind this film. She paces the story methodically. I was nervous for the first 15 minutes. It felt like the movie wasn’t going anywhere. What she lacks in fast-paced action, she makes up in trueness. Meghie forces us to look each character in the eyes.
I will likely see it again for those New Orleans nights in sultry dresses and for that moment on the bus to New York when we understand her smile. I will see it for the moment when he asks “Is she here?” and I burst into tears. It isn’t the love story that brings us to tears but seeing ourselves in the awkwardness of a first date and in a quiet conversation with our father. I will see it again for the validation that my life and choices are good enough, even if imperfect. This is a movie with Black people, but not about being Black. Okay, maybe the soundtrack is a little bit about being Black. I loved it. Grade B+.
Emory University is hosting a series that explores the history of African-Americans in film. Movies are shown on Wednesdays now through April 22 and are free to the public. “A Raisin in the Sun” is included in the series. Lorraine Hansberry’s play aptly captured what it was like to be Black in 1950’s Chicago. Classic films were very much about being Black. I’ll be there for “Enemy Mine” on March 4. These stories are important and so are new stories like “The Photograph.”
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