The Photograph (2020)
Directed by: Stella Meghie
Premise: A writer (LaKeith Stanfield) researches the career of a recently deceased photographer and falls for her daughter (Issa Rae). As their love blooms, the daughter uncovers secrets about her mother.
What Works: The Photograph is a smart and sensual love story. The film’s greatest asset is its two lead actors, Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield. The two leads are vividly characterized and Rae and Stanfield have a vibrant romantic chemistry. This couple is so appealing in part because they are so funny. This isn’t a comedy but the humor of The Photograph humanizes these characters. Most of their story takes place in the early, honeymoon stage of the relationship and The Photograph captures the anxiety and excitement of new love. Rae and Stanfield bring a lot to their roles, adding little idiosyncrasies that distinguish a familiar boy-meets-girl scenario. The Photograph offers two stories in one. The primary narrative takes place in the present between Rae and Stanfield’s characters. Their story is intercut with flashbacks to the mother of Rae’s character as she departs New Orleans for New York City in pursuit of her career as a photographer and leaves a man behind. The two parts of the film fit together in ways that enhance each story. The transitions between the narratives are seamless. It’s always clear which narrative we are in and the juxtaposition creates a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts. The Photograph is beautifully shot. The colors pop and the movie is lit in a way that gives the images a vivid texture. The cinematography is matched by an effective musical score. It’s a jazz score which suits the New Orleans setting and the music underlines the drama and the romance without ever overstating it.
What Doesn’t: The Photograph relies on several romantic clichés including the meet-cute and the impending job opportunity that threatens to separate the couple. The filmmakers mostly overcome the clichés because the characters are so likable and their romantic chemistry is so vivid. The intercutting of the present with the past also softens some of the clichés because it gives them some narrative purpose. The weakest element of The Photograph is its lack of conflict. Romances need an obstacle preventing the lovers from living happily ever after. Overcoming that obstacle is how the characters prove their love. In The Photograph that obstacle is flimsy and so there is never much at stake.
DVD extras: Featurettes.
Bottom Line: The Photograph takes a familiar boy-meets-girl premise and makes something smart and fresh out of it. The movie may not stray too far from romantic formula but it does that formula well and its performances and filmmaking craft distinguish The Photograph from the average love story.
Episode: #806 (June 28, 2020)