Summary: A series of intertwining love stories set in the past and in the present.
Cast and Characters. So we meet two sets of “main characters”, we have Mae and Mike and then Christina and Isaac.
Issa Rae is Mae Morton, she works in a museum, her mother recently passed and she is learning about her life, reading a letter that was left for her, and by going through her things. Mae is an independent, intelligent woman and she is learning about her mother, what her life was like and why throughout her life growing up, her mother wasn’t quite the parent she could have been. Issa Rae is great as I usually find her, she’s fun to watch on screen, she’s funny, she is great at reacting with her face and her character is pretty low-key throughout the film. She’s just mellow. Also, the costume designer on this film did a great job with her, she always looked put together, and her hair always looked good. She never seemed “overtly sexy” and that yellow dress she wore towards the middle of the film was everything.
Lakeith Stanfield is Michael Block and he is a reporter for a well-known newspaper and he meets Mae because he is doing an article on something that happened in Louisiana. He sees the picture of Christina, finds out about her and meets Mae who is doing an exhibition on her for the museum. Mike is immediately taken with Mae and he goes out of his way to run into her again. I quite liked his persistence, it wasn’t icky or “too much”. Being a reporter, it worked for his character, it made sense. I really like Lakeith Stanfield, he is also a pretty “low key” person it seems so he was also a bit mellow in this role, maybe a bit more “open” compared to Mae but he had his own issues.
Chanté Adams as Christina Eames. She was a young woman whose story was told through flashbacks while Mae read her letter. We were able to see bits of her romance and adult life. She was a photographer and often looked at life through her lens, but things didn’t always work out the way she thought. Her relationship with her mom was interesting, which seemed to trickle to how things were with Mae (but we never saw that). I thought she was the most interesting and I would have liked to have seen the movie of her story to be honest. I don’t believe I’ve seen this actress in anything before but I liked her, she had a silent strength to her that radiated when she was on screen. One of my favorite moments of the film is the scene in the car with Isaac when Mae was a little girl, we see two sides of that moment and both times it was amazing. She handled that moment beautifully.
Rob Morgan as Isaac Jefferson. We don’t see a ton of him since he’s the older version, but he’s a nice man, clearly still in love with Christina even since their lives went separate ways.
Y’lan Noel as Young Isaac Jefferson. Of course I know him from Insecure, and I liked him. Isaac is very much content with staying in Louisiana and he would love to just be with Christina in this life. He doesn’t come off as selfish, he doesn’t do anything that I found to make a horrible person, he just didn’t want to leave his home and there’s nothing wrong with that. I thought he had great chemistry with Chanté Adams and the sequence when Christina went back to Louisiana, he was really great.
Shout out to Lil Rel Howery (Kyle, Mike’s older brother) who was a joy every time he was on screen with Teyonah Parris as his wife. They were also great together as the married “settled down” couple. They were funny, had chemistry and it was nice to see they had a very nice house, loved each other and loved their daughters. Also shout out to Jasmine Cephas Jones and Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Rachel and Andy, Mae and Mike’s friends from work. It was great seeing all of them in this movie and be entertaining characters when on screen.
The Story/Parallels. Soooooo I like the story and how these two were brought together. The idea of this man meeting Mae due to him doing research and by six degrees of separation he meets her is pretty cool. Then the fact that he pursues her in her world first was great. I liked that Mike found out about her mother through an article he was writing. It was nice that they both had great jobs and were successful. I liked watching their romance unfold, it was slow and cute. As for Christina and Isaac, I was also into that romance as well, they were cute and I think they set up their personalities a lot better. I also loved meeting Mike’s brother and his family, which were highlights. I’ll mention this later, but I also see where the movie was trying to go with the parallels between the present and the past. I get the intention and I see it for the most part but there are some things I think they could have handled better when it came down that.
Genuine Romance. I’ll have stuff to say on the chemistry between the two leads but I felt like the story of their romance was pretty genuine. How they met was cute, he was doing an article on Isaac, which led him to Christina which led him to Mae. They pretty much instantly hit it off and our romance goes from there. It didn’t feel rushed, it didn’t feel dragged out. I was along for the ride and I liked the moments they had together where they just connected. It wasn’t just a physical relationship, it was meant to be intimate and I saw that. I even liked at the end which I won’t spoil. I was pretty invested even with the problems I had. I was also invested in the Christina/Isaac romance of the film. Isaac was a chill dude and he didn’t need much “spontaneity” in his life whereas Christina had different ideas. She was a photographer, she got a little taste of freedom and being independent and she didn’t know how to shake that which caused issues but I was probably a little more invested in their romance than I was Mae and Mike. Just a little, probably helped that those two had chemistry lol. It was just nice to see that they had a relationship without being pushed together through trauma or something crazy happening to them. It was just two people, meeting, connecting and falling in love.
The Music. I’m not terribly familiar with Robert Glasper who led the charge with the music in this film but I was really feeling it. The song choices were great and the instrumentals were beautiful. Music always helps to set the tone of a film and I think it did that very well.
Characterizations! Okay, while I was writing this review, I was going over my notes I put in my phone and what I remembered. I have a good memory with movies and how I felt while watching etc. I saw this movie recently and I am having a hard time putting a set characterization on Mike and Mae. The basics were there buuut whenever I do my “cast and characters” part of this review, I usually can go pretty in detail what that character was like but I couldn’t do that because Mike and Mae didn’t quite have the characterization they should have received. Yes, they connected about music and yes we get moments here and there but other people told us things about them. I’m pretty sure that both Rachel and Andy are the ones who mentioned about their careers being more important to them both than love. I’m sure that Kyle (Mike’s brother) also says that along with his issues of commitment or whatever due to his ex-girlfriend. Most of his conversations with his brother is about his personality instead of just showing us one instead. They’re likable characters and there was a ton of potential but it wasn’t as realized as it should have been. I kept putting off this review because of this issue I realized I had with the film.
Inconsistent Chemistry. I didn’t look at a ton of reviews before I saw this movie, I generally try not to do that but I did see a lot of people say they thought there wasn’t much chemistry between our two leads and… I agree. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them together and I think it was there sometimes but a majority of the time, it felt like they only had a “connection” because the script told them they had to have one. It was awkward and not in the way that Issa Rae is awkward with guys in Insecure or how Lakeith Stanfield has this quirkiness about him that worked with Tessa Thompson in Sorry to Bother You, but in that “this is so awkward its borderline uncomfortable”. I think they are both amazing actors and I think they worked really well together, but I didn’t feel that spark between them whenever they were on screen together. I don’t necessarily want to compare but Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith were fire on the screen in Queen & Slim. It’s unfortunate, you root for them but the spark was missing for me to fully invested other than the script telling me to be and the fact that I love these two actors.
Parallels? So we get this back and forth with present time and Mae’s mother and her romance with Isaac and it seemed like they wanted to present this thing that the women in her family do. They push people away because they’re independent or they don’t want to worry people. We see that with Christina and her mother but we don’t quite see that with Mae. I actually thought they were going to parallel the Christina and Isaac relationship with Mae and Mike and that Mike was going to be Christina because something happens and he wasn’t going to tell Mae even after they got close. I thought that would be interesting because we still get the parallel but not quite in the way we would think… being a family “curse”. But then the movie tried to say that Mae was always that way and I never quite got that throughout the film. Sure, she’s independent, but I never got the sense she pushed people away because she never learned to need someone. That should have been explored more for that entire conversation to land better for me.
Execution. So as I said, I enjoyed the two stories being told in the movie and I completely get when we had a flashback without a time stamp, the problem I found with this is that it just happens. There’s a part in the movie where there’s no lead up to the flashback, it just happens and I was like whoa wait. There’s no color change, there’s no one telling the story, and no one reading a letter. I think there’s one time where a flashback starts and then after the moment it shows Mae reading the letter. I like flashbacks most times, I enjoy time jump moments, as evident by how much I liked it in Little Women, but if you’re going to do it without any typical set up, make sure it flows. It literally felt like two movies just put together in one movie.
Overall, I really liked The Photograph. It’s so refreshing to see a love story between two black people, where they are both well off, independent, have great jobs and have not been pushed together because something crazy happened. Nor did the movie feature some major trauma because black people live lives without “extreme” trauma all the time. I liked the characters, the acting was great. I really dug the genuine romance set up between these two, yes it hit some cliché movie tropes but I was okay with it. The soundtrack was fire and I really just loved the feeling and tone of the movie. I liked the story and what they were going for with the parallels but with that said, there are a lot of story elements I found lacking in the film. I think it could have benefited from one more rewrite. While I get the parallels, they didn’t quite match up with what we were shown, we had to be told things and that doesn’t help with characterizations. It also sucks that while you like them together, Issa and Lakeith didn’t have a ton of chemistry. It was weird in places. But with that said, I thought the movie was a great depiction of positive black love. We need more movies that do this, just make sure the characters are fully realized here people! Great date night movie!
Rating: 3.89 out of 5 stars.
Have you seen The Photograph? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!
What is your favorite black romance film?
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