In the 90s, there was a fun time of romantic movies consisting of African-American professionals meeting and becoming lovers simply because there was mutual attraction, the likes of which haven’t really been seen in modern cinema much anymore. Love Jones, Love and Basketball, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Brown Sugar and others were genuinely entertaining to take in. We saw the leads encounter each other, figure out things, and eventually hit the bedroom with a Me’shell Ndgeocello song in the background. (Seriously, she made great tracks for this). For whatever reason, such films have largely gone by the wayside and have been sorely missed until now with The Photograph.
The Photograph focuses on New York reporter Michael (LaKeith Stanfield) and his human interest column which takes him south to interview a Louisiana fisherman (Rob Morgan). Meanwhile, we have Mae (Issa Rae) a museum curator who is figuring out her life a bit while reading the final letter from her recently deceased mother Christina (Chante’ Adams) whose own story is depicted in the mid-80s. Through a couple of chance encounters, Mae and Michael come to enjoy each other’s company as they learn about themselves and the prospects of their future together, should one come to happen.
The screenplay written by the film’s director Stella Meghie is initially clunky as there are 3 perspectives juggled around here as one wonders where things are headed. Eventually, things come together about halfway through and there are some nice payoffs for our patience. The supporting characters are fun to see in action as well with their funny and insightful balance. Michael’s intern (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is trying to understand the journalism biz and likes to mess with him a little. His brother (Lil Rel Howery) really likes to needle him about his life and romance choices while enjoying life as a family man and father. Mae has her own support system with her fellow museum worker (Jasmine Cephas Jones). Meanwhile, we see some of the things Christina experienced in her life with a gentleman named Isaac (Y’lan Noel) which were interesting to take in.
As to Mae and Michael, they have a nice relationship while working thought the baggage folks can come to have in life and love. It’s entertaining to learn their mindsets as romance is not necessarily the easiest thing to explore. Both Stansfield and Rae show excellent nuances as professionals connecting in a crazy romantic world. It’s believable to see their reactions to the rollercoaster of challenges laid before them. I found myself wanting to take smoothness lessons from Michael’s words to Mae at times.
In a lot of respects, there were several subtleties I really enjoyed here. The soundtrack combines the best elements of modern jazz and 80s R&B that I grew up loving and don’t hear in Hollywood films at all, so this was a nice change of pace. Also, I liked looking at the southern landscapes of Louisiana for visual flavor. But most of all as others have spoken of, it was cool to see two dark-skinned people acting like intelligent adults on the big screen, in a world where producers don’t see such things as cinematically viable. I know some tend to think of films aimed toward black audiences as ones needing tragedy, slavery or Madea necessary for success, but there are many who will vote with their dollars to say they want to show they like and live other aspects of life. I’m glad The Photograph is in theaters and hope it proves as profitable as other romantic works.
Grade: A- / B+