Cast: Issa Rae, Lakeith Stanfield, Chelsea Peretti, Kelvin Harrison Jr.
Director: Stella Meghie
Well, it wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without a cheesy romantic drama coming out to sweep audiences off their feet. In all fairness, The Photograph is much better than some of the movies we’ve gotten in the past (looking at you, any of the Fifty Shades movies), so it has that going for it. I went in with relatively low expectations, but The Photograph does a solid job of creating a sensitive and caring environment. Through a combination of an interesting story and strong chemistry between the leads, The Photograph shakes off the stigmas associated with the genre and stands alone as a solid movie.
The film follows Michael Block (Stanfield), a journalist interviewing victims of Hurricane Katrina who comes across an old picture of a woman who became a photographer in New York. When Michael finds her daughter Mae Morton (Rae), the two begin to bond and form a romantic relationship. As time passes, the two strengthen this relationship but also reach impasses that could dictate the way things go for them. While many movies in this genre rely on sappy cliches and wooden acting, it’s a pleasant surprise to see that’s not necessarily the case here. Sure there are a few moments here and there, but for the most part the movie feels genuine and sweet. A large part of this is due to chemistry between Rae and Stanfield who genuinely seem to like each other and aren’t phoning it in just because it’s a relatively generic movie. Maybe it’s because they’re genuinely good actors who’ve shown flexibility and prosperity throughout their careers, but this is definitely an upgrade from what we usually see around this time of year. I’ll go out on a limb and say with the way these two performed together they could’ve been co-leads in an older version of If Beale Street Could Talk. I haven’t seen any of Meghie’s other movies, but I’d be interested to see what she does with a more tightened script and serious subject matter. She could be someone who ends up directing an awards-season player in the next few years and I’d be 100% supportive of it if the overall quality increased. Stanfield has had quite the emergence over the last few years and even though this isn’t the best movie he’s been in, it certainly won’t detract from the progress he’s made. I didn’t really think The Photograph would go out of its way to break any box office or storytelling records, but anytime a movie comes out that doesn’t follow the exact formula of mediocrity that has plagued early release movies for years you have to give it credit. I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to watch The Photograph again, but it accomplishes its goals and a solid story and cast for its 106 minute runtime. Those who like similar movies will certainly enjoy The Photograph, and anyone dragged against their will to see it by a significant other won’t exactly hate their time spent watching it.
Overall, The Photograph is far from the worst movie to watch at this point of year and can reasonably stand on its own feet and call itself a respectable movie. With the exception of the end-year contenders that are released with a different purpose than this movie, there’s a legitimate chance that The Photograph holds up as one of the better romantic movies of the year. With a lesser cast and a less developed story I don’t know if The Photograph would’ve done as well as it did, but it made the most of its opportunities and created an enjoyable environment for most.
Overall Score: 6/10