The Photograph (2020) Image 5
The Photograph (2020) Universal Pictures

Valentine’s Day is here, and we have a love story in theaters called “The Photograph” directed by Stella Meghie. This one stars Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield and it follows two different love stories, one from the past and another from the present. It explores the concept of who your parents were as regular people and learning how their lives played out. It also explores the notion that we can learn about our own lives and the choices we make, by knowing who our parents were as people, not just mom and dad. I would consider myself to be a romantic at heart. I do enjoy a romantic drama when done right, but the problem is many of them fail to connect with me.

They often feel either overly melodramatic with contrived character decisions to force a sad ending. Or they are overtly sweet and artificial with cliché conclusions that feel like Hollywood happy endings and not real life. “The Photograph” falls exactly where you want it to for the genre, right in the middle. It captured emotional weight as two stories of love evolve. But it also infuses it with a natural levity and charm through characters that feel like real people living their lives and confronting the obstacles that come with it. Another issue with love stories in the cinema these days is the predictable path they too frequently take. Two people find a connection with each other. They spark their passion with one another. Some outside hindrances pull them apart and then the story weaves though the reuniting or separation of a couple with all the amplified melodrama that comes with it.

It’s all been done so many times but what I loved about this movie was the story, its fresh approach, and the added layers of thought it taps into. Like I said, it plays out through two love stories. One from the past between a working man and an inspired young photographer with dreams of a life outside her small town. And another in current day between her now grown daughter and a reporter doing an article on her mother’s photography. It was fascinating to watch this woman learn about her mother, not as a mom, but as a woman on her own navigating through life. The more she learns about who her mother was as a person the more she correlates the similarities in their subconscious ways of thinking.

With her mother gone she can see the lasting ramifications of decisions made, that at the time didn’t seem so monumental. And how this story explores the impact that had on her own love life was compelling to see unfold. It never felt like a movie that was telling me a story. It felt like a peek inside of lives being lived, and that realism was refreshing. The connection you feel to the love story from the past is what naturally pulls you into the one set in the present. It resulted in a smooth flow between the two timelines. They play out individually, but they add pieces to the larger narrative. And I felt it provided a massive amount of substance in a very subtle package that doesn’t overshadow the simple foundation of two people trying to find love together.

And with Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield bringing great performances, and a simmering chemistry with one another that felt genuine, the film has two appealing lead characters. Yet, Chanté Adams and Y’lan Noel also poured themselves into their roles with emotionally driven performances that add two more intriguing characters to invest in. Their chemistry was excellent as well. Their love felt innocent, charged, and from its era. Much different than what Rae and Stanfield captured together and I though it made each story captivating in their own unique way. Lil Rel Howery provides great comedic-relief, Kelvin Harrison Jr. leaves his small impression as well, and Courtney B. Vance and Rob Morgan also make a mark in smaller roles to round out a solid cast overall.

The direction and cinematography were nicely tailored to the tone of the story. The stylizing is subtle but makes large strides in creating an appealing mood that flows between past and present seamlessly. It’s polished but not hindered by studio gloss and the music builds atmosphere to elevate the emotional current nicely. It does drag just slightly in the second-act, and I would have liked to see a little more from the past because Adams and Noel were great together. But as it was the story-line is a tale of love that is universal with elements of regret, change, acceptance, and inspiration, that show love can work in the most conventional or unpractical of ways when two people want it to.

GRADE: 90%

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