Review: The Photograph (2020)

The Photograph (2020) The Photograph (2020)

Everyone and everything in this romance – the faces, the lighting, the music – is beautiful and accomplished. So why doesn’t this work?

Despite their individual attractiveness and obvious acting talent, leads Mae (Issa Rae) and Michael (LaKeith Stanfield) somehow share zero romantic chemistry. The dialogue is no help – why are we listening to these people say nothing interesting? Who even are they, why do they want anything that they seem to want, much less eachother? The film takes its leisurely pace to say and do too little – and and while it is indeed pleasurable to merely look at everyone, the film doesn’t justify its lingering with any character or story work worth that time.

The Photograph (2020)
The Photograph (2020)

Meanwhile, the second story, told through flashbacks, has way more ache and actual romance. The chemistry between Christina (Chanté Adams) and Isaac (Y’Lan Noel) at least exists, particularly since we can better understand their wants and needs – ironic, given that the present-day narrative frames their timeline, and particularly Christina’s character, as a mystery to be solved, a process which will potentially inform the choices modern-day lovers Mae and Michael make, about their relationship with eachother as well as their respective careers.

Director Stella Meghie, who has also worked with Issa Rae on her own series Insecure, and director of photography Mark Schwartzbard‘s lighting, respectively linger and lavish visual affection on these worlds and characters (even if I wish the flashbacks were distinguished at least a little by even a slightly different look). But the script, or at least what we can make of it from the final product, doesn’t earn this sort of time and treatment. Which begs the question: what was the original idea which drew all these supremely talented people both in front of and behind the camera, and where is any of it in the final film?