‘The Photograph’ Captures Generations of Love Blossoming and Spreading Free

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Issa Rae, Lakeith Stanfield, Chanté Adams, Y’lan Noel, Rob Morgan, Lil Rel Howery, Teyonah Parris, Courtney B. Vance, Chelsea Peretti, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jasmine Cephas Jones, Marsha Stephanie Blake

Director: Stella Meghie

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Some Sizzling Moments

Release Date: February 14, 2020

The ads for The Photograph have been giving off strong “Nicholas Sparks, but with black people” vibes. However, I had a hankering suspicion that it wouldn’t actually be as saccharine as that glossy presentation suggested. First and foremost, the two leads, Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield, are not exactly for taking on such gloopy material. Surely their presence would ensure that things would end up a little more left-field than this genre typically goes. Indeed that has turned out to be the case, but to be fair to the marketing team, this is not an easy movie to advertise. It has a slow-burn meditative spirit (driven along by Robert Glasper’s jazzy piano score) that does not immediately grab you in the way that trailers are meant to in a couple of minutes. But if you simmer in it for a couple hours, your heart might just grow a few sizes.

Michael (Stanfield) is a reporter working on a story that happens to involve recently deceased photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams). He then finds himself smitten by Christina’s daughter Mae (Rae), who is working her way through the truth bombs that her mom has left her in a pair of letters, one addressed to Mae and one to Mae’s father. Meanwhile, writer-director Stella Meghie frequently takes us back to Christina’s young adulthood in small-town Louisiana where she is unable to reconcile a possible future with the man that she loves (Y’lan Noel) and her dreams of making it big in New York City. She tends to always choose her professional goals over her loved ones, and in a case of family history rhyming, Mae and Michael find themselves worried that they are going to do the same. That struggle to find the nerve to say what you know is in your heart is deeply felt in The Photograph.

I have noticed a lot of excitement around this movie about the potential to see black love that is not also about trauma on the big screen. And if that is what you are looking for, I suspect that you will be satisfied. The blackness in The Photograph is not meant to represent all blackness, as Michael and Mae’s story is by no means a microcosm of all people of color. They are two people who happen to be black and happen to be falling in love. The details are their own, while also being part of a continuum of their lineage. It is an openhearted, generous story that I think a lot of people are going to be happy to witness.

The Photograph is Recommended If You Like: Beyond the Lights, Love & Basketball, A bottle of wine and a record player on a rainy night

Grade: 4 out of 5 Darkrooms

Movie Review: ‘Little’ Squanders Its ‘Big’-In-Reverse Premise on Too Much Broad Comedy

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CREDIT: Eli Joshua Adé/Universal Pictures

Starring: Marsai Martin, Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Justin Hartley, Tone Bell, Mikey Day, Luke James, Rachel Dratch

Director: Tina Gordon

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for An Adult Woman Trapped in a Child’s Body Trying to Drink and Flirt Like an Adult Woman

Release Date: April 12, 2019

There is a creepy subtext to high-concept comedies about kids fantastically becoming the adult version of themselves. But the likes of Big and 13 Going on 30 avoid being actually creepy films by choosing to sidestep those implications. However, the fact remains that their main characters are children in adult bodies who find themselves in situations that could very well turn sexual. Physically, they may have magically become mature, but emotionally they remain the same, so ethically it’s all sorts of confusing. Little reverses the premise, turning the adult into her middle school self, and it also embraces the creepiness, which is confusing in an inside-out sort of way. Is a 13-year-old girl hitting on her teacher morally acceptable when she’s actually a grown woman under a magic spell? Little convinces me that it is, bizarrely enough. The rest of the movie, alas, raises all sort of unanswered conundrums.

Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) has become the successful head of a tech company by adopting an I’ll-take-whatever-I-want attitude in response to the bullying she endured for being a nerdy science kid. She may have plenty of cash and a decent amount of respect in an often sexist and racist industry, but all of her employees are deathly terrified of her and she doesn’t have any close friends or family. So for a few days she turns into her younger self (in the form of black-ish‘s Marsai Martin, who came up with the idea and at 14 is the youngest person ever to receive an executive producer credit on a Hollywood production) to get back in touch with what originally fueled her passion in the first place. That’s all well and good, but the shenanigans that happen to get her to that realization are a little more suspect.

A movie like this is obviously not aiming for verisimilitude, but how the characters grapple with the break from typical reality shows how much thought and care did, or did not, go into the story. On that matter, Jordan’s sudden absence from work is too easily brushed off as illness, while the sudden appearance of a little girl is too often not explained at all. (Occasionally, the explanation is that Jordan has a daughter, but that’s only employed when the scene requires it.) Also, the whole school subplot is catalyzed by a wacky misunderstanding involving Child Protective Services and concluded in just as weightless a fashion. What will CPS do when they realize that Jordan has disappeared from school after attending it for only a couple of days and then they discover that the child version of her no longer exists? Little provides no answer, but I wish it would have, because it could have resulted in plenty of hilarity. Depending on your sense of humor, there may very well be plenty of opportunities for you to heartily guffaw during this movie, but instead of mostly being a natural outgrowth of the premise, they mostly feel like a random series of hijinks.

Little is Recommended If You Like: 13 Going on 30, Insecure, Thirsty Women Admiring Shirtless Men

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Donut Trucks

This Is a Movie Review: The Hate U Give

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CREDIT: Erika Doss/Twentieth Century Fox

I give The Hate U Give 4 out of 5 Reasons to Live: http://newscult.com/movie-review-hate-u-give-confronts-racism-police-brutality-via-high-school-cinema/