BUFFALO, N.Y. — Perhaps the best word that provides an overall evaluation of The Photograph is “solid.”
Solid direction of solid actors portraying solid characters with a solid plot. Yeah. That’s it! “Solid” does the job.
That’s both the best and worst thing about this film. It never really goes beyond solid. There’s no real dramatic tension. The characters are almost all flawed in one way or another, but never past the point of likability. You don’t want to see them fail, but you never really root for them either.
The Photograph tells a few different, but intertwined relationship stories. Back in the early 80s, an aspiring young photographer from Louisiana, Christina (Chanté Adams, Bad Hair, Monsters and Men), is carrying on a romance with Issac, (Y’lan Noel, The Weekend, The First Purge).
But Christina has big dreams of moving to New York City and embarking on a career in photography. Issac can’t really wrap his head around leaving the bayou.
In the present day, Christina after a successful career as a photographer, has passed on from cancer. Her daughter, Mae, (Issa Rae, Little, The Hate U Give), never terribly close to her mother, now has to deal with her effects, and finds a long letter from her mother in a safety deposit box.
At the same time, Michael, (Lakeith Stanfield, Knives Out, Uncut Gems) a photojournalist is doing an article about Christina. Of course, he meets Mae. There is an attraction and the two begin a tenuous relationship, as Mae is sorting through all the emotional baggage that came with things revealed in that letter.
Director Stella Meghie (The Weekend) has a sure hand on this film’s tiller. She deals well with the film’s multiple timeless scenes and never lets the audience get confused about just when a particular scene is taking place. Her pacing is deliberate, sometimes verging on the plodding, and with the exception of an evacuation scene, is utterly without excitement. Meghie takes no directorial risks.
The film has a stellar cast, led by Rae and Stanfield. These two exhibit a great deal of chemistry and the scenes the two share are the ones that come the closest to being exciting. Lil Rel Howery (Good Boys, Brittany Runs a Marathon) brings just the tiniest bit of humor to his scenes. Everyone else is good; but just good.
The Photograph is, at its heart, a multi-generational story of fundamentally honest and good people making tough life decisions and figuring out how to make the best choices.
There are no extreme characters. There are no highly charged emotional scenes. None of the characters display extreme emotion or really bad behavior. Rae’s charm and her undeniable chemistry with Stanfield notwithstanding, The Photograph neither makes an audience member cheer, or cry.
There is no emotional catharsis, nor the need for one. Everyone is reasonable. Still, within those boundaries, The Photograph tells of romances that fail, and those that succeed; and it does so right well.
If the film-goer is expecting a riotous rom come, and a Nicholas Sparks style romance, that filmgoer will be disappointed. The Photograph is quiet and sincere and nicely done. It’s not a great film, but it is a good one, and as such, deserves 3 and a half out of 5 boxes of popcorn.
Other openings this weekend include Downhill. This black comedy stars Will Ferrell (Daddy's Home, The Other Guys and Julia Louise-Dreyfus (Deconstructing Harry, Enough Said). It's based on the very much acclaimed Force Majure from 2014. It’s Rated R for language and some sexual material.
Another remake will indulge our fantasies as Fantasy Island is opening. It's not about the Grand Island amusement park, but is a horror version of the 70s television series. Michael Pena is a fine actor, but he’s no Ricardo Montalban and Hervé Villechaize's Tattoo is nowhere to be found. It’s Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, drug content, suggestive material and brief strong language.
Another video game is showing up on the big screen: Sonic the Hedgehog The critics are really liking Jim Carrey (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as the villain, Dr Robotnik. It’s Rated PG for action, some violence, rude humor and brief mild language.
I'm Larry Haneberg and I'm taking you 2 The Movies.