Romance is a bit fuzzy in ‘The Photograph’

“The Photograph” – Location, Location, Location.

If you live in Mesa, AZ, would you take a job across town in Buckeye?  According to Google, the cities are 53 miles apart, and at 6:00pm on a Thursday, the one-way commute is 1 hour and 18 minutes.  Unless you have a How to Learn French in 500 hours app, a pile of gas money, a reliable, late model Honda or Toyota, and are born with oceans of patience, handing a tattoo pen to your 6 year-old son and asking him to draw a permanent rubber ducky on your forehead seems like a more sensible idea than starting at a new company with 13 hours of driving time every week.

No, location might not be a critical factor for every decision, but pragmatists rightfully consider it when looking for a job.

In writer/director Stella Meghie’s “The Photograph”, Christina Eames (Chante Adams) is a straight-thinking realist too, but she also has a passion.

The year is 1984, and Christina is about 18.  She lives in Louisiana, loves to take pictures and dreams about moving to New York City to work as a photographer, but her boyfriend Isaac (Y’lan Noel) has no interest in relocating.  Isaac loves Christina, but not enough to follow her across the country.  She’s staring into a massively divisive crossroads, but when the heart wants what it wants, a 1,300 mile life-journey to The Big Apple is not an impossible, overwhelming idea.  She might set love aside and pursue her professional goals.

Fast forward 36 years, and Christina’s daughter Mae (Issa Rae) loves her job as a museum curator, and for reasons that will not be discussed in this review, journalist Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) is writing a story about Mae’s mom.  Naturally, he meets his subject’s daughter.

Since “The Photograph” arrives in theatres on Valentine’s Day, one might anticipate that Meghie’s film is full of romance.

Not so, and throughout most of its 106-minute runtime, “The Photograph” has all the fervor of calculating your federal income taxes, two months ahead of the April deadline on a lazy Sunday morning.  Make that coffee extra strong, and did you save that 10 dollar receipt for those Girl Scout cookies?  That counts as a charitable donation, right?

Anyway, Mae and Michael are both single, successful and attractive professionals and begin dating.  They have dinner at a fancy restaurant, listen to Al Green records, receive relationship advice from family and friends – including some hilarious one-liners from Michael’s brother (Lil Rey Howery) – but they are both hesitant about taking the next step.   Well, Michael wants to take the next step, but since most of his relationships haven’t lasted more than 12 weeks, he probably doesn’t exactly know.  Mae and Michael are a bit emotionally unavailable, and she’s terrible at first dates, per her own admission.  (To be fair, how many of us are?)

Mae and Michael don’t have terrible chemistry, but they talk, chat, expound, and rationalize their way in and out of this possible relationship – and run through some false starts – throughout most of their on-screen time.  Thankfully, the narrative regularly flips between present-day and the 1980s, so we can spend some quality time in the past.  Hey, Christina’s impending career decision versus a life with Isaac carries genuine gravitas.  This couple formed a settled bond that could break, rather than Mae and Michael’s constant speculation if they should seal theirs.

Meghie definitely plays with parallels between the two time periods, and 2020-Isaac (Rob Morgan) connects them and delivers the film’s most emotional beats.  She continues the resemblances between past and present but forces a Mae-Michael plot point with a shoehorn, crowbar and sledgehammer.  Well, rather than take Al Green’s advice that they “ought to stay together”, maybe Mae and Michael should be sound pragmatists, do the math and split.

Eh, either way is fine.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

⭐⭐  out of   ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image and trailer credits: Universal Pictures

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