Courtesy of Universal
Issa Rae (“Little”) and Lakeith Stanfield (“Knives Out,” “Uncut Gems”) headline Stella Meghie’s earnest romantic drama “The Photograph:” the type of Valentine’s day weepie aimed straight for your heartstrings, though, unfortunately this one comes up short, particularly due to a story that bounces all over the place and never stays in focus long enough to resonante.
While you might assume “The Photograph” is about Rae and Stanfield’s characters entirely, the film actually begins with a different love story: a doomed one in the 1980s between Isaac (Y’Lan Noel) - a crab fisherman on the border of New Orleans, and the young and spunky Christina Eames (Chante Adams) whose hungry to leave her broken homelife, start fresh, and make a name for herself in photography. In the present, Michael Block (Stanfield) - a journalist striving for a change in his daily New York City lifestyle, travels to Louisiana for a piece on life following the Deepwater Horizon spill. He interviews Isaac, now bald and retired, who still keeps a photo of Christina, a hugely successful photographer, on the mantel. This intrigues Michael who looks up her name in New York and stumbles upon her estranged daughter Mae (Rae) in the process.
You don’t need a script to find out where this is going.
Still, “The Photograph” keeps the momentum on low, struggling to take these characters to places other romantic flicks of the past haven’t gone before. They’re both single. They both have sidekicks: for Micheal it’s his brother played by Lil Rel Howery and for Mae it’s longtime pal Rachel (Jasmine Cephas Jones). Mae turned down the last man who proposed, and Micheal just got out of a long term relationship. But of course, they have found each other, which - if you’re already sitting in the theater - you’re probably ready to forgive all the obvious conveniences.
The stakes are low and the conversational banter about whether or not Drake and Kendrick are the best rappers does little to move the needle (for the record, I prefer Drake). That said, Rae and Stanfield have remarkable charm about themselves, and Stanfield, who's been on a roll lately with off-the-wall performances in “Sorry to Bother You” and “Uncut Gems” takes a step back for once in a more calm and collected portrayal. I only wish the script would give him and Rae more to sink their teeth into.
“The Photograph” wants to set up a multi-generational narrative, spanning across two different timelines altogether, about learning how to prioritize the ones you love and admire. But from the opening scene you already know that Christina is going to leave Isaac for the big city, and is there really any doubt that Micheal and Mae will try to rewrite their own destiny? Even when Micheal is considering taking a job in London?
You might already know the answer and in that regard “The Photograph” is an easy watch. One that does its job and offers comfort food for date night audiences. The supporting actors - including a barely recognizable Kelvin Harrison Jr (“Luce”) - offer some unique and relatable moments in the grand scheme of a film that tries to present something fresh. Aside from Robert Glasper’s solid jazz infused score, “The Photograph” leaves a minimal impression, and will likely fade in the distance as time marches on.