THE PHOTOGRAPH – Review
Stella Meghie directs her original story in a manner that attempts to blend arthouse sensibilities with mainstream romance – combining a soul-searching drama about two generations of women confronting and learning from their parents as they try to not just commit themselves to their careers and be open to the possibility of love. One half of the story follows Christina (Chanté Adams), a young photographer in Louisiana growing up in the late 1980s who feels the pull to pursue her career elsewhere. The other half follows a museum curator (Issa Rae) in present-day New York, who meets an up-and-coming journalist (Lakeith Stanfield) through a story that he’s researching.
Despite the time jump, THE PHOTOGRAPH effortlessly slides between the two timelines, with some scenes slowly merging into one another in interesting ways. It’s this control over the story that shows Stella Meghie’s talent as a director, even if the material occasionally feels hollow or expected. The script (as well as actors Rae and Stanfield) struggles when tackling the modern romance, but it excels when focusing on the brooding, forbidden love in the flashbacks between Christina and her boyfriend Isaac (in a perfectly understated performance by Y’lan Noel).
Echoing Christina’s photography, Stella Meghie is most interested in the character’s reactions in each scene, soaking in the quiet pauses, soft laughter, or subtle glances. These scenes unfold in a beautiful fashion thanks to Mark Schwartztbard’s cinematography. He uses light and shadow to emphasize important turning points in the story – from a dark hurricane casting a shadow on a timid love affair to showing light peaking through the cracks and windows of a homemade darkroom, attempting to break through the rigid walls the characters have built around them.
The scope of the film feels a little restrained, despite Louisiana and New York both existing as a rich tapestry for potential scenes. Neither city plays much of a part, as so much of the story unfolds in buildings or houses. At many points, I wondered if this would make for a better stage play instead of a theatrical experience so that the energy and romance that was meant to be on-screen might be more present in an intimate setting.
In the end, Robert Glasper’s brilliantly moody and romantic jazz score is leaned on heavily to carry the emotional beats, but it can only go so far to set the mood and convey the feelings that are too often spoken on-screen instead of felt. THE PHOTOGRAPH fails to excite the mind or the heart. Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae are both, naturally, standoffish, making for characters who might actually be better off focusing on their careers rather than love. Forget the spark, not even a match is in sight between the two of them. Perhaps the film’s message of “give love a chance” wouldn’t be as lost on the audience if it was more palpable on screen.
Overall score: 1.5 out of 4
The PHOTOGRAPH opens in theaters Feb. 14th