Dallas Movie Screening

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Photograph

In writer/director Stella Meghie’s “The Photograph,” journalist Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) is sent to Louisiana for his latest assignment, an interview with Isaac Jefferson (Rob Morgan). The exact purpose of this interview is muddled when, shortly after arriving, Michael catches sight of a collection of framed photographs placed on Isaac’s mantel. Sitting among them is the photograph of the movie’s title – a snapshot of the artist herself, photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams). This sidetrack leads Isaac to reminisce about his long-ago girlfriend and alters the course of Michael’s article.

Back in New York City and looking into Christina’s work, Michael meets her daughter Mae (Issa Rae), who is grieving from the recent passing of her mother and is planning an exhibition of her work. As Mae discovers her mother’s past, shining light on a woman she always considered distant, she finds herself falling in love with Michael. “The Photograph” focuses on the budding relationship between Mae and Michael in the present and the relationship between Christina and Isaac (played in his youth by Y’lan Noel) in the past.

Christina and Isaac’s storyline is integrated into the film through a letter that Mae finds in a safe-deposit box, which also includes a print of the titular photograph. Mae begins to heal as she reads the letter and learns about her estranged mother. Through her characters, Meghie explores how a person’s actions don’t always match their emotions, presenting Christina as a stand-offish character unable to express her love to her family but easily able to express herself in her artwork.

It’s not too hard to figure out where this story is going. Meghie directs with a sure hand, giving viewers a finely photographed movie. This isn’t a film that’s trying to wow viewers with its photography. The shots are unassuming and well laid out, keeping the focus on the story (however simple it may be) and the characters. The sections focusing on Mae and Michael work better than the ones focusing on Christina and Isaac. Rae and Stanfield give better performances and have better chemistry than Adams and Y’lan, though Adams does better with her solo scenes.

The past events depicted in “The Photograph” shed some light on the present but, unfortunately, the movie feels like it’s crawling to its destination. The pacing of this film is just off, making the movie feel much longer than it actually is. Meghie glacially moves through her narrative, slowly building to the final resolution, inserting some brief comedic moments that help to liven up the proceedings. She isn’t aided by the film’s mellow, jazzy score which helps instill its sluggish pace.

Despite its generic storyline and pacing issues, the movie still manages to work. You come to care about Mae and Michael and hope for a happy outcome. “The Photograph” doesn’t offer anything new to the romance genre but for viewers looking for a romantically themed theatrical outing this will probably fit the bill.
(Review by Bret Oswald)

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