VOD film review: The Photograph
Matthew Turner | On 12, Feb 2022
Director: Stella Meghie
Cast: Issa Rae, LaKeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Rob Morgan, Courtney B. Vance, Chanté Adams, Teyonah Parris, Chelsea Peretti
“Sometimes good things take time to develop.” That’s the on-the-nose title allusion for this romantic drama from writer-director Stella Meghie (Everything Everything), which takes place over two separate time periods.
The film begins in 1989, with a video camera focused on young New York photographer Christine Eames (Chanté Adams). At a certain moment, she seems distracted, and we realise that her young child is playing in the background, prompting a candid moment of introspection.
Cut to the present day, where it transpires that Christine has recently died, and has left her adult daughter, Mae (Issa Rae), a pair of letters in her will. At the same time, journalist Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) engineers a meeting with Mae, having taken an interest in Christine’s story after seeing a photograph of her while on a different story in New Orleans.
Michael and Mae fall for each other, but their burgeoning relationship stumbles when Michael lands a job in London, which threatens to end their romance before it’s begun. Meanwhile, Christine’s story unfolds via the letter she sent her daughter, in which she details her love affair with Isaac (Y’lan Noel) in the 1980s in New Orleans, her difficult relationship with her mother (Marsha Stephanie Blake) and her eventual decision to move to New York to pursue her career in photography.
The script is deliberately low-key, eschewing high-stakes emotional drama for something altogether more thoughtful and quietly affecting. The overall message is somewhat on the simplistic side – follow your dreams, take a chance on love – but the sincerity behind it is genuinely charming.
Fortunately, Meghie has struck gold with the casting: Stanfield and Rae have serious chemistry together (they can barely take their eyes off each other) and it lights up every scene. Consequently, they make an extremely attractive onscreen pairing, to the point where the audience is actively willing them to get it on, 12 certificate or no 12 certificate.
There are sweet turns in the supporting cast too, most notably Lil Rel Howery and Teyonah Parris, who are utterly adorable as Michael’s brother and sister-in-law. Chanté Adams is engaging as Christine and there are touching performances from Rob Morgan (as the older Isaac) and Courtney B Vance as Mae’s voice-of-wisdom father, Louis.
At a certain point in the story, Meghie indulges in some nice mirroring scenes, in which sequences in the present day echo scenes we’ve seen in the past (a pair of tracking shots into nightclubs particularly stand out). However, that backfires slightly, because it points out that the film could have used more of that visual invention.
Ultimately, though, The Photograph ticks all the right romantic boxes. Watch out for the devilishly smooth moves of LaKeith Stanfield and his delivery of a killer line: “I’m wondering if it’s not too early in the night to kiss you.”