“The Photograph” Movie Review

Originally a JOUR 3321 assignement. March 2020.

I’m a sucker for the romance genre, so I knew this movie would be a hit with me. A friend even recommended it as a movie she would see again, but aside from her, nobody in my social circles was talking about “The Photograph.”

A journalist for a New York-based news organization called “The Republic” is working on a profile story on a displaced sharecropper and wants more info on a few photos he spots in the man’s house. The journalist takes them to a museum’s photo historian, who also happens to be the daughter of the photographer seen in one of the photos. He quickly falls for her, and their story begins from there, mirroring some of the history found in those photos.

I had high hopes for this movie considering my admiration for the past projects of both Rae, of “Insecure” fame, and Stanfield for his work in the acclaimed “Get Out,” “Atlanta,” and “Sorry to Bother You.” Despite their stellar previous performances, they both fell flat in “The Photograph”, as Rae and Stanfield’s characters, Michael and Mae respectively, appeared stilted and awkward.

From the time Mae and Michael first meet when he comes to the museum where she works to inquire about those photographs from the man, Isaac, connected to her mother, Christina, I wonder how that pairing will ever work out, but still hold fast to my hope.

That hope soon fizzled after the first 30 minutes of the film, from that point on, it dragged, redeemed only by the jazz composition of Robert Glasper and a soundtrack filled with both old-school and contemporary R&B. 

Lil Rel Howry, who plays Michael’s brother, Kyle steals the show despite being a supporting character. His well-timed humor and witty banter with his wife gives the movie a needed lift where the romance between Michael and Mae and Christina and Isaac make it sag.

The matter of commitment issues comes out immediately as Christina expresses her regret for not being able to hold onto people and leaving when things become too serious. It seems to run in the family, as Mae also fears commitment when it comes to romantic relationships.

The two central love stories in the movie–Michael and Mae and Isaac and Christina– do not correlate, even though they are intended to connect. Flashbacks of the heated, passionate short-lived romance between Mae’s mother, Christina, and Isaac are spliced in between scenes of Michael and Mae’s own confusing romance.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

The times these flashbacks occur are just as confusing as how there could be any romantic or sexual tension between characters who just stare at each other and argue over alluded conversations that are never had nor revisited until it’s too late to care. Still, this patchy love story told only through photographs and flashbacks is better than the present one between Mae and Michael.

The two share no chemistry. The dialogue doesn’t flow well between the two and they seem unintentionally awkward to the point I want to look away. Between ill-timed kisses and awkward stares, they seem to stumble throughout their entire love story. 

Michael and Mae appear more like good friends, even though they have known each other for not even a week, who are trying to force a more intimate relationship. It simply did not fully interest me in their relationship.

When Michael finally reveals to Mae his plans to move overseas for a new job have come to fruition, she pushes him away and he goes on his way. They don’t speak for weeks, maybe a month. 

This should be the end to the movie to make it come full circle to relate this story to the one of Christina and Isaac not speaking 30 years after their romance was cut short by Christina moving across the country to start a new life, then dying without ever speaking to him again.

Instead, Mae, who apparently has an abundance of money, has a grand surprise in London for Michael to let him know she wants to make their irrational, long-distance relationship work because she doesn’t want to repeat her mother’s mistakes. They somehow rekindle whatever sparks that were supposed to be between them and officially start their relationship.

I rate it 2 out of 5 stars, redeemed only by Lil Rel Howery’s performance, the soundtrack and jazz composition, and the Louisiana scenery shots.

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