Every time I see your face, it reminds me of the places we used to go.
But all I’ve got is a photograph, and I realize you’re not coming back…
I thought I’d make it, the day you went away.
But I can’t make it, ‘til you come home again to stay.
–Ringo Starr lyrics from the song “Photograph”
This is the perfect romantic film for Valentine’s Day. It’s like The Notebook-light. Filmmaker Stella Meghie (who made a somewhat cute romance for teens with Everything, Everything a few years ago) serves up a cross-generation of romances here. I wish it would have had a different title, since there were movies called “The Photograph” in 2000, 2007, and 2016. There was a film called “Photograph” in 2019. So, maybe they could have gone with “The Photographer” or “The Dark Room” (although that sounds kind of like a horror flick).
A photographer named Christina (Chante Adams), leaves her small Louisiana town for the bright lights of New York City. She must have made it, because a reporter from The Republic (LaKeith Stanfield) is doing a story about her. That means we see magazine offices that looked the way they did in the ‘70s or in movies (nowadays, reporters are mostly working from home offices). It also means a reporter can just take his sweet time on a story, without an editor saying “Dude, we assigned this story two weeks ago. What do you think we’re paying you for?”
Also, we just saw this type of character with Vogul in the Mr. Rogers film (although his editor did get on him a bit about turning in the story). Yet like that movie, both end up making the stories they write about themselves, instead of the very interesting subject matter they were assigned to cover. But I digress.
Of course, this gives the characters time to contemplate their life, or discover a new love, etc.
The reporter discovers a museum curator in New York (Issa Rae), who is the daughter of his subject. He stares at her in a way that’s supposed to be romantic, but kind of makes him look like a serial killer. It’s the first time I think Stanfield has been miscast. I liked him in Knives Out, Uncut Gems, and my favorite of his — Sorry To Bother You. But, he doesn’t quite pull off the romantic lead vibe needed for this. Some could argue that he was a bit aloof, because he has commitment issues, just got out of a long relationship, and might get a job in London (at this point, I’m sure anybody could guess where this story will end up). Once Mae and Mike get together though, they do have chemistry; although as adorable as Issa Rae was in Little last year, her stares and side-eyes in this, should have been edited a bit. It got odd a few times.
Actors Rob Morgan and Y’lan Noel, play the Isaac character (in different time periods) — who is a crab fisherman who loved Christina, but stayed behind when she went to the Big Apple (Noel pulls off the romantic lead a lot better than Stanfield).
The predictable nature of all this saps any significant emotional power it should have. Yet all that being said, I didn’t mind spending time with these characters, and a few times I got teary-eyed.
There are some humorous moments that work well, too. One scene involving nieces that reveal a few things about Mike’s old girlfriend that they shouldn’t. And any time Lil Rel Howery opens his mouth you smile.
The supporting cast is strong, with Jasmine Cephas Jones, and two actors I loved so much from my favorite movie of last year, Luce. That would be Kelvin Harrison Jr. (he played an intern yearning to be a writer), and Marsha Stephanie Blake (This is Us).
The plot was a bit thin, and the narrative jumps don’t always go as smoothly as they should. And I would’ve prefered Mike’s character to not have tried to be too cool for school, and the mother, in the young flashbacks, to not seem so nasty.
Pianist Robert Glasper gives us a nice jazzy score, which works well. And on the subject of music, there’s a scene when things are going to get romantic, and an Al Green record is put on. Good call, but…anybody that knows anything about great music and seduction, would’ve opted instead for Green’s “Call Me” album over “I’m Still in Love With You.” Just sayin’.
At least they didn’t play Ringo Starr.
2 stars out of 5.