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Non-Review Review: One Night in Miami

The past year has seen an interesting resurgence in old fashioned stage-to-screen adaptations.

It is been a common criticism that screen adaptations of classic stage plays tend to be “stagey” rather than traditionally “cinematic.” After all, many plays are written in such a way as to play to the strengths of theatre as a medium, built around core characters delivering monologues on standing sets in an intimate scale. One of the more common criticisms of movies like Doubt is that they fail to fully translate the material so that it is optimised to work in the language of cinema. As a result, quite a few adaptations will try to disguise their theatrical origins.

The cast is great, bar none.

However, this past year has seen a number of high-profile stage performances adapted for film, completely unashamed of their roots. Hamilton was not a conventional cinematic adaptation of the hit musical, but instead a recording of a performance pieced together in such a way as to attempt to recreate the experience of watching the show in a theatre. On Netflix, The Boys in the Band and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom made no effort to disguise their theatrical roots. Even Ryan Murphy’s The Prom embraced the hyperrealism of Broadway.

One Night in Miami is another example of this trend, with playwright Kemp Powers adapting his own play for the screen. Director Regina King never tries to make One Night in Miami seem especially cinematic or epic in scope, instead opting to focus on what made Powers’ play such a success in the first place. One Night in Miami is a piercing and biting snapshot of an ongoing argument in progressive minority circles, powered by sharp dialogue and a set of winning performances. It is perhaps a little too stagey for its own good, but it still works a treat.

Raising the roof…

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Non-Review Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful and poetic piece of work.

From a certain perspective, the film is poetic in too literal a sense. If Beale Street Could Talk is adapted from the work of James Baldwin, and conscious venerates its inspiration. The opening title card quotes from Baldwin’s introduction to the book, and makes a point to allow his name to linger on screen after the quote itself has faded from view. There are extended sequences of If Beale Street Could Talk that are lifted directly from the book, occasionally even laid over black-and-white photos from the era to underscore the broader social commentary.

Fonny how things end up…

This would normally be an issue in an adaptation of a beloved literary work, in the same way that certain adaptations of theatrical works can seem “stagey” like Fences or even Doubt. If Beale Street Could Talk is very lucky in its choice of director. Barry Jenkins is a fantastic visual storytelling, with a wonderful eye for composition and a breathtaking way of seeing the world that seems to bleed through the screen itself. For the most part, If Beale Street Could Talk benefits from Jenkins’ strong visual style working in tandem with Baldwin’s searing prose.

There are moments when one threatens to overwhelm the other, when Jenkins’ task of adapting Baldwin’s story for the screen brushes against the limitation of the form; a monologue just a little too arch, a tangent just a little bit too removed, a transition just a little too forced. However, these moments are few and far between, and If Beale Street Could Talk is a stunning piece of cinema.

A lover’s Tish.

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