For many, the initial concept of love is interpreted through media, unforgettable love songs and classic rom-coms build our knowledge on the inner-workings of romantic relationships like bricks on a house. Moviegoers who enjoy films such as “The Notebook,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Casablanca” can more-than-likely regurgitate thoughts of what is, was, or could be in their relationships based on what they have watched. While the genre has not been as prominent in recent years, writer and director Stella Meghie is looking to revive romance films with “The Photograph.”
Meghie’s 2020 film is inspired by timeless African-American romance films such as “Love Jones” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” “The Photograph” follows Mae Morton (Issa Rae), the estranged daughter of a famous photographer, who falls in love with journalist Michael Block (Lakeith Stanfield) while he is pursuing a story about her late mother. During its promotional run, “The Photograph” is marketed as a revival of romance films starring African-Americans, following a tactic similar to “Love Jones” with an accompanying soundtrack to prepare potential viewers for what is to come. While the “The Photograph” does a good job of setting the mood, it chickens out in several key areas.
From the beginning, Morton and Block’s relationship feels a bit arranged. Rae and Stanfield have great chemistry as actors, but the pacing and planning out their on-screen relationships are unnatural and awkward, almost as if there is no way they would possibly still be together in real life. Throughout the film, Meghie fails to detail her characters, leaving viewers to fill in the pieces on the dynamics of their relationship. In addition, the film has a pretty hard time getting its foot in the door. An overly-long and complex exposition leaves viewers confused about the story they are watching. However, once the story gets going, “The Photograph” is a whirlwind of nostalgia, culture and true love.
Meghie uses classic romantic tunes to orchestrate the mood of a scene and push the story along while giving viewers all the feels in the process. Moreover, Grammy-winning jazz musician Robert Glasper’s score is brilliantly intertwined with the film, creating a natural ambiance. Although “The Photograph,” is considered a strictly romantic drama film, Block’s brother Kyle (Lil Rel Howery) lightens the mood of the heavy film. Meghie also manages to sneak in some political commentary about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its long-term effects on the African-American businesses and communities in Louisiana. While it’s not central to the plot, her idea to raise awareness to the epidemic was a needed touch.
The substance of “The Photograph” suffers at the hands of poor character development and a stiff plot, making it a bore for some moviegoers. Its rewatch-ability is decent and will likely be a go-to for a Netflix and chill session where Netflix is doing the watching. However, a carefully arranged score and backdrop save Meghie’s film from the pit of obscurity. Rae and Stanfield’s chemistry is good enough to inspire a generation of romance film lovers to keep loving, and “The Photograph” is worthy to be added to the list of great romantic films.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Watch the trailer for “The Photograph” here.