Love, and its expressions, are not always grand or over the top. Sometimes a single photograph can encompass all the love and passion between two people. Here in lies the story of “The Photograph.” Directed by Will Packer and written by Stella Meghie, the film tells the story of two couples separated by time, but bound by blood.
The first couple is comprised of a fledgling photographer, Christine (Chante Adams), and her boyfriend, Isaac (Y’lan Noel), a small town fisherman content with his simple life. Christine dreams of escaping their small Louisiana town and moving to New York City to pursue her dreams. Eventually, with a (later understood) “nudge” from her mother she leaves her family, friends, and Isaac for New York. Years and decades pass and both live lives of regret, too proud to reconnect and explore what might have been.
The second, and primary couple, is set in present day. It consists of Christine’s now adult daughter, Mae Morton (Issa Rae), a museum curator who is freshly mourning her death, and Michael (LaKeith Stanfield), a writer who is doing a posthumous article on Christine’s personal life and career. Michael, while researching Christine, meets Mae and sparks fly between them as they both rebound from relationships.
She gives him an old photograph of Isaac which he uses to track him down and interview him in Louisiana. He learns Isaac never stopped loving Christine, and ultimately learns the toll time and distance can take on two people who are seemingly meant to be. Meanwhile, Mae, who grew up feeling distant and unloved by her mother, receives two letters left to her–one explaining her love story with Isaac, and the other addressed to her father. Mae and Michael run into their own pitfalls when the latter gets a new job in London and Mae is not sure how they can make their increasingly complicated courtship work out while learning from Christine and Isaac’s mistakes.
“The Photograph” is a great movie in that it shows Black Love in a true, non-traumatizing form. The story is presented as a cautionary tale and how to ward off those “generational curses.” Mae has the opportunity to reconnect and learn from her late mother by being better at love than she was, and she takes it. However, the focus of the film really should have been on Christine and Isaac. This couple was highly relatable and earthy, reminding us of a time before social media, dating apps, and ghosting, when love and life were as simple as rural Louisiana. The ups and downs, push and pull between Christine and Isaac push the entire film and ultimately reincarnates itself between Mae and Michael. The chemistry in this couple was believable and flowed effortlessly, only because Chante and Y’lan are dynamic in their portrayals. Mae and Michael, however, were more awkward. We cannot help but see Issa Rae from “Insecure” (2016), or notice how emotionless and seemingly dry LaKeith’s portrayal of Michael was. With Isaac’s character we could tell he loved Christine, it was emoted and charming. You could actually see why Christine fell for him, and why it was so painful for her to move on and live her life without him. Mae, may be better off finding a man who can communicate better and show genuine affection beyond the bedroom.
Still, “The Photograph” is a film worth seeing for yourself. Shakespeare said it best in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “the course of true love never did run smooth.” Catch the movie in theaters everywhere on Valentine’s Day.