Trailer Park Thursday: “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Lizzie”
Barry Jenkins adapts James Baldwin, Chloë Sevigny gets the axe.
Upon first glance, the two movies in the Trailer Park this week couldn’t be less alike. One is a tender, urban love story, and one is a murder thriller set in New England. Yet, both are explorations of the struggle for agency under the thumb of oppression, and both feature strong femme leads who, in separate centuries and under very divergent circumstances, stare out at us with a self-possessed pathos that implicates us even as it draws us in.
With 2016’s Moonlight, Barry Jenkins reached into our chests, took firm hold of our hearts, and, infamously, also took home the Academy Award for Best Picture. For a year, we’ve waited with bated breath, knowing that Jenkins is adapting James Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk. And if you thought Moonlight was beautiful and powerful, this trailer teases a triumph that promises to be no less exquisite:
We’ve been showing A24 a whole lot of love recently, but don’t sleep on Annapurna Pictures—when they’re good, they’re really good (see: Phantom Thread, Her, American Hustle). They’re known for giving auteurs an uninhibited chance to use their voice as they see fit, so we know that nobody is trying to dilute or subvert Jenkins’s original vision. Thank goodness.
This first look at his newest project was released on August 2, which is the day that James Baldwin was born in 1924. Along with impressionistic cuts that bring 1970s Harlem to life with loving detail, we hear Baldwin himself weaving in and out through voiceover, a technique rarely used in adaptations. Aside from his words, there is very little dialogue. Many of the characters introduce themselves with clear-eyed gazes, peering straight into Jenkins’s lens. In Baldwin’s book, two young lovers (played by relative newcomers Kiki Layne and Stephan James in the movie) are torn apart by a false accusation of rape, a not-uncommon movie plot device, but a dynamic that takes on an entirely different dimension through the bifocals of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter—perhaps this suggests that If Beale Street Could Talk will place intersectionality at its forefront. One thing’s for certain: Nobody mixes the personal and the political like Barry Jenkins, and we can’t wait to hand him our hearts all over again.
Director Craig Macneill is perhaps not as celebrated as Jenkins, or as well-known. Still, his chilling debut, The Boy, got some good festival buzz and was praised for its atmosphere. We can already tell that his follow-up, Lizzie, is not just true to Macneill’s horror roots, but steeped in the same voluptuous canopy of pervasive dread:
Well, bust our corsets! The true story of the Borden murders is practically bursting at the seams with lurid details: Deathbed confessions, sliced-up eyeballs, bird murder, etc. If this trailer is any indication, Lizzie seems to take its plot points liberally from the highest-key content to be found on the topic. Here, the (possibly wicked) stepmother is never seen, but the Borden patriarch is painted as a tyrant who uses cruelty and blatantly sexualized physical dominance to control his household. In other words, it’s pretty freakin’ clear who we’re rooting for here.
Previous on-screen iterations of this infamous axe-murderer—sorry, alleged axe murderer—include Christina Ricci and Elizabeth Montgomery, but we literally can’t think of a better woman for the job than Chloë Sevigny. She and co-star Kristen Stewart, who plays the Bordens’s real-life maid (and, according to some accounts, lover) Bridget, are undisputed queens of the kind of cool-girl stoicism that can spin campy fun into chilling thrills. After all, this is true crime. Between Lizzie, Colette, and The Favourite, this fall promises a cornucopia of period films that crackle with queer undertones, so get ready for plenty of comparison think pieces, and get the jump on planning a killer couples’s costume with your favorite “gal pal”—Halloween is just around the corner! Alexa, How do I get fake blood out of a hat veil?
Watch Now: Can’t wait for If Beale Street Could Talk to release at the end of November? You can watch seven, yes, seven of Barry Jenkins’s short films right now on Fandor. Check out our article Barry Jenkins: Long Story Short for more on these auspicious early works. You can also watch a different James Baldwin adaptation, Go Tell It On the Mountain, directed by Stan Lathan. Oh, and if you’re a fan of Chloë Sevigny, don’t miss her starring with fellow it-girl Jena Malone in M. Blash’s The Wait.