- Lakeith Stanfield, Issa Rae, Rob Morgan
- Stella Meghie
- Stella Meghie
- PG (Canada), PG-13 (United States)
- Running Time
- 106 minutes
- Release Date
- February 14th, 2020
If anything, The Photograph proves that if one can find two stars with the right chemistry, they can sell anything regardless of genre. This latest romance film is certainly par for the course for February, the month where studios dump all their romantic offerings hoping to score those precious Valentines dollars though unlike many of those films, this one is definitely worth the trouble. While it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, nor does it have to, it offers a compelling love story told from an African-American perspective in a way that uses two parallel stories that are compelling individually but unfortunately don’t quite fit together thus hurting the story as a whole. This will surely be a sore point with some viewers though the film still gets by for the most part thanks to its performances across the board and the aforementioned chemistry of its two stars, Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae.
The Photograph was about a journalist named Michael Block (Stanfield) and a young museum assistant curator named Mae Morton (Rae) who out of a strange turn of events, somehow find each other and fall in love after Block’s latest subject, a man named Isaac Jefferson (Morgan), happened to have a relationship with Morton’s mother Christina who had recently passed away. Over the course of Block’s research, he finds Morton in the middle of mourning her mother. As Block became more fascinated with the story of Christina, Morton looked to her notoriously difficult mother’s past in order to get closer to her. Their quests would see them colliding and the rest would be history. Taking place from multiple timelines, the film jumps between the story of Block and Morton and that of a younger Jefferson (Y’lan Noel) and Christina (Chante Adams) who left Jefferson behind in rural Louisiana (where he was perfectly content living there) to pursue a career in photography in New York City.
The parallels between both relationships were fairly obvious. We as audiences already know what happened in the past so it was kind of interesting to see these similarities while hoping that the present ends up differently. As much as they came from different generations, each pair suffered the same issues when it came to their relationships. While Morton had a tough time sharing her feelings and Michael shared the same career-drive as Christina which cost her her relationship with Jefferson who was full of regret after letting her go. They would have to balance their feelings for one another with their own lives, using their past experience, and it would not be easy. What happened next shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise as the film tends to follow the same set of conventions for romance films but despite this, these flawed and relatable characters were still compelling to watch as they were blanketed by some good cinematography and an engaging jazzy score that admittedly cued the mood of scenes a few too many times. However, the jumping between timelines is a little jarring at first though as the film went on, each would hurt the momentum of the other causing both to lag in the middle before stumbling by the end.
As mentioned, the best part of The Photograph was its performances, especially that of Stanfield and Rae as Block and Morton respectively. Their chemistry and charm make the film very watchable despite their characters’ lack of development caused by what was essentially five ongoing stories. They each showed compelling moments of vulnerability but there was simply too much going on to ever connect with either on a deeper emotional level. While they still shined, a few questionable decisions prevented them from shining even brighter. Meanwhile, Morgan, Noel, and Adams brought out the best of the other side of the story with impressive performances in their own right but another somewhat compelling subplot got shortchanged.
In the end, The Photograph was an engaging romance propelled by its two stars, proving that they should be in more things together.
*still courtesy of Universal Pictures*