“The Photograph” is an intelligent and mature love story, with one of the most magnetic and lovely on-screen couples. LaKeith Stanfield is a revelation and Issa Rae is stunningly beautiful as she radiates the screen in every scene. Both stars have pure chemistry that absolutely ignites the screen. Powered by a soundtrack of classic R&B hits and a soothing jazz score by jazz musician Robert Glasper. “The Photograph” plays as a throwback to an old-school love story, where it’s characters are treated and written as real adults. Superbly crafted and acted. Romantic on every level, while never being overly dramatic, but always captivating.
Great romance movies are when two actors and their characters connect so completely that you know, they must be meant for one another. Romance movies chronicles love until it runs its course, leading them to separation and arguments, turning it into a sappy drama. There’s no denying romance flicks seem a bit formulaic, and I won’t deny that so many are. Even with their structural and cliched similarities, romance films and romantic comedies still find a way to be beloved by millions of movie goers, that especially includes me. I’m a real sucker and softie when it comes to this genre.
Yet here is an intelligent and mature love story, with one of the most magnetic and lovely on-screen couples since Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers as the Obama’s in 2016’s “Southside With You”. Starring the gorgeous, dark-skinned duo of LaKeith Stanford (“Get Out”) and Issa Rae (“Little”) have pure chemistry that absolutely ignites the screen. The film is called “The Photograph” and is a story about what we deal with in love, life, the regrets we have and in taking chances.
It is a soulful and sultry film, directed by Stella Meghie (“Everything Everything”). She gives us a chance to see Stanfield and Rae (who is also the Executive Producer) in a way we’ve never had the chance to before, making them glow in a mature love story.
Reporter Mike (Lakeith Stanfield) has an assignment to track a story about the BP oil spill and its effects on the local fishermen in the community. He interviews Isaac (Rob Morgan) where, Mike uncovers more than the story of a fisherman fighting an oil company. He discovers a lovelorn man who pined away for decades over the woman he almost married and still loved after all these years. That woman is Christina and unlike everyone else in Christina’s life, a younger aged Isaac (played by Y’Lan Noel) loved her so much that he couldn’t bear to force her to give up the one thing that made her happy. Her happiness was to go to New York City to become a photographer.
Christina and Isaac’s love parallels another. That of Michael and Mae (Issa Rae). Mike finds Mae while on his investigation into Christina’s life. Mae is used to talking about her mother, so she complies to be a source of the story. A romance soon starts between Mike and Mae, who is trying to piece her history together. The story drifts between two storylines in the present day and in the 1980’s, focusing on Christina’s past in Louisiana, shot with a Nicholas Sparks-esque quality.
In their relationship Mae and Michael face similar problems as her mother and Isaac had. Mae worries that she is just like her mother, in being too committed to her work. But when she’s with Michael, those feelings seem to fade away. In one of the films best moments, we see Michael and Mae’s first date. Director Stella Meghie stages the date realistically as it feels, looks and sounds like an actual date. It’s two people talking about the things that connect them. The conversation is natural, funny, and ultimately revealing. When Michael asks Mae if it’s too early for a kiss, we already know by the look on her face that it isn’t.
Star Lakeith Stanfield has quickly become the next big thing in Hollywood. Making his screen debut in writer and director Destin Cretton’s 2013 film, “Short Term 12”. Stanfield has been on a career high as of recent starring in “Get Out”, “Uncut Gems” and “Knives Out”. His work in “The Photograph” as a leading man with his sleepy eyes and laid back physicality is a revelation. While Issa Rae seems to be headed in the same direction as Tiffany Haddish (“Girls Trip”), in films like “Little” and the upcoming “Love Birds”. This is the best Issa Rae has been and I hope she makes more films like this. She is a stunning beauty in every scene. When Stanfield looks at her, you don’t just see love but you also feel it and we fall in love with her as he does with her.
Rob Morgan, who was so powerful in Destin Cretton’s “Just Mercy”, shines again as the older Isaac. In his brief screen time, he conveys Isaac’s regret at not being able to follow Christina, but also beautifully performs his reasons for staying.
“The Photograph” is powered by a soothing jazz score by jazz musician Robert Glasper centers their story. While beloved R&B oldies by the likes of Al Green, Anita Baker, Chaka Kahn and Luther Vandross helps bring all the sensuality. Having “The Photograph” written and directed by a woman of color, released during Black History Month, the jazzy music and it’s two young stars as leads makes the film feel all the more personal.
Its characters are treated and written as adults with real adult baggage. It’s a stunningly beautiful movie, with Rae and Stanfield always kept in tight focus by director Meghie and director of photography Mark Schwartzbard. A throwback to an old-school love story that reminds us that cinematic romances doesn’t always have to be cutesy.
Superbly crafted and acted. Romantic on every level, while never being overly dramatic, but always staying captivating.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)