What a disappointing movie.
Despite the hype surrounding this film, I found myself wishing it was over halfway through. Because of the movie’s slow pace and the fact that I didn’t feel emotionally connected to any of the characters, I almost fell asleep and just generally felt like I had lived in that theater my whole life, though it was only an hour and 45 minutes.
The Photograph stars Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield, along with supporting roles from Y’lan Noel and Chanté Adams. The story is told in two distinct timelines, with the first following the romance between film photographer Christina Eames (Adams) and Isaac (Noel) and the second following Michael Block (Stanfield) and Christina’s daughter, Mae Morton (Rae). Before passing away, Christina sent two letters to Mae talking about her path to motherhood. One is addressed to Mae and the other to “her father," although Mae never had a father figure in her life. Christine also includes a black-and-white photograph of herself as a young woman. Michael is a journalist writing an article about Christina. He and Mae work together to uncover Christina’s story and find Mae’s father.
Oh, also, they fall in love.
Here’s the deal… The Photograph had promise, which is what added to the blow. I was looking forward to watching a film directed by a woman of color, starring people of color, that used its platform to talk about issues that are unique to these communities. For the most part, this one felt like you could swap everyone out for white actors and it would be the same story.
Granted, there were some parts of the movie that I felt hit really important topics, such as when Christina’s mom tells her that she has to marry a man with money if she’s going to just dabble in photography her whole life. As I’m not Black, I couldn’t relate to the situation entirely, but I’ve noticed similar discourse between parents and children in the Indian American community. Having immigrated to the United States with almost nothing, parents are reluctant to allow their children to pursue the arts. Money is always the first concern.
Unfortunately, thought provoking moments like these were few and far between. Instead, we were given some shallow love stories. I don’t hate love stories (ask anyone I know, it’s quite the opposite). In fact, I feel like this movie could have used the love stories as a lens to tackle deeper issues. However, that would only have been possible if the characters had been developed enough in the first place.
It felt like Rae and Stanfield were wasted in these roles. LaKeith, to his credit, was giving it all he had, but there was only so much he could do with the script he was given. Michael Block’s only personality traits are being a journalist and having trouble committing to women. Mae’s personality traits include…
Oh, sorry wait. I don’t think they exist.
The audience knows that Mae is a museum curator putting together an exhibit of her mother’s work, but that’s all we know about how she spends her time. Other than that, we only see Mae through the context of her relationship with Michael. Their conversations are so shallow that neither actor has the chance to convey nuances in their character’s personality. The only interesting thing about the modern timeline is Rae’s outfits.
On the flipside, I do think that the characters of Christine and Isaac were decently developed, so I was more invested in their timeline. They had more fleshed out conversations, so the actors could convey more about their characters through body language and facial expressions.
The lack of character development wasn’t the only thing wrong with The Photograph. The technical execution also screwed it over.
The camera angles were extremely uncreative. Most of them were just straight shots. I mean, I get that we can’t all be as creative as Parasite or 1917 with our cinematography, but please, at least include some close-ups to break up the monotony.
Also, a film soundtrack can really make or break a movie, and while this one had some real hits, including a few from Whitney Houston and Al Green, it felt like the rest of the soundtrack was indistinct elevator music. It made the whole ordeal feel like a cheap ad for a hotel.
This movie also insults the intelligence of its viewers. Clearly, the two timelines are meant to be parallels of each other. Christine and Michael both have trouble with commitment, so it’s clear from the beginning that Michael is going to learn from Christine’s mistakes to treat love with as much importance as his work. However, the film’s creators still find it necessary to show us, in a final montage, all the couples parallels right alongside each other, just so they can be sure we understand.
They also play a song about “the birds and the bees” when Christine and Isaac make love, as if we didn’t know what was happening there either.
I will say, though, that the script was genuinely funny. I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be a dramedy, and at least they got the comedy part down.
However, if you’re broke like me, I suggest you save your ten bucks.