The past and present show no red eyes in their images, and that’s fine by me.
“The Photograph” is a romance drama that isn’t just about the relationship between two strangers; it’s also about the past of one off their mothers, and where it lead them. In this case, we meet Mae (Issa Rae), a museum curator in Queens, who reads a letter from her late mother Christina (Chante Adams), who was also a famed photographer. In flashbacks, we see her would-be love story in Louisiana with Isaac (Y’lan Noels), and her strong-willed opinion of refusing to be the typical housewife.
I wasn’t expecting this type of movie when I saw the trailers and posters, but I was surprised to know it’s more than meets the eye. It’s not a stupid “50 Shades of Grey” drama made for an African-American crowd; it’s a chance to allow comedian Issa Rae to expand her horizons, and she and Lakeith Stanfield are able to have chemistry without being obligatory characters.
Stanfield plays a reporter named Michael, who is assigned to do a story of Christina, and meets Mae, whom he doesn’t know is related to her. He wants to expand his horizons and get a new journalist job in London, but in the meantime, he wants to get to know more about Mae.
It might sound predictable with the past segments, but they prove themselves to be more complex than anticipated. And there are some dull love scenes, but they end up being the least of my troubles. In fact, “The Photograph” has its heart in the right place by introducing us to characters, who don’t want to be typical love story characters, but people with thoughts and values. Credit for that goes to Rae and Stanfield’s connection, Adams and Noels’ flashbacks, and to writer/director Stella Meghie (“The Weekend”) for providing them with fresh character studies.
The supporting cast also features Rob Morgan (emotionally packed) as the older Isaac, Lil Rel Howery (flexible) as Michael’s older brother, Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (charming) as Michael’s fellow intern, Chelsea Peretti (likable) as their sarcastic boss, and Courtney B. Vance (sophisticated) as Mia’s step-father.
The locations in New York, London, and Louisiana are all beautifully photographed and crucial to the story. They help introduce us to the characters and their goals and intentions. And they even allow the tone and environments to help reveal their feelings and decisions.
“The Photograph” is about people and not the rules of a love story. Yes, it’s the audience’s job to hope the relationships will work out, but it’s also our position to see if the movie will provide fresh elements. That’s what this movie offers, and I’m relived to acknowledge that.