When I watched the trailers for The Photograph, I expected a beautiful solid romance story. I write romance as well as reading the genre and I like the hopefulness, the sweetness of the story type. So I planned to enjoy this story. What I didn’t plan was to fall in love. There is substantial heat between the leads and the film is far more complex and messy than the standard romance, weaving a love story that is authentic, filled with humor, drama, and emotion.
The Photograph, written and directed by Stella Meghie, follows the estranged daughter, Mae (Issa Rae) of a famous photographer, Christina Eames (Chante Adams), who falls in love with the journalist, Michael Block (Lakeith Stanfield) assigned to cover her late mother. As Mae unearths truths about her mother, her love story is interwoven with her mother’s, paralleling and comparing their two lives as Mae learns from her mother’s past.
While the story sounds simple, it is not, building universal truths and messy relationships. As Michael interviews those who knew Christina, the narrative shares the details of her past and while Mae discovers photographs of her mother and letters, she opens up to Michael. Each has a complex past. Michael has had relationships fail and wants change while Mae is reluctant to build something new, struggling with the dynamics from her relationship with her mother. But as the story details Christina’s past, it parallels the choices both Michael and Christina are making in the present and eventually lends strength to Mae in her relationships as she accepts all the positives from her relationship with her mother.
The romance between Michael and Mae is full of heat, mess, and beautiful awkwardness. The first date is something all of us have experienced, as individuals share who they are with each other. But this movie does a brilliant job of highlighting those moments, both quiet but also intense. The heat between the actors is intense, realistic, and authentic, as Mae and Michael verbally dance with each other, but also flirt. When the attraction boils into action it is intense and beautiful.
Beyond the romance elements, what makes this truly universal are the dynamics between Mae and her mother. Some of the most emotional moments are scenes between little Mae and her mother as her mother struggles with her choices. Chante Adams’ performance is phenomenal as she illustrates the difficult choices the character must make in order to be true to herself.
While the love story was expected, the humor was not. The dynamics between Michael and his brother Carl (Lil Rel Howery), are some of the funniest in the film but also the most truthful. His family is hilarious, not just the adults but also their two daughters as the girls spill secrets to Mae about Michael’s past relationships. These moments of humor, both between Michael and his family but also Mae and her friend Rachel (Jasmine Cephas Jones) build the authenticity of the relationships and the complexity of the love story.
The acting just sizzles, with brilliance, humor, and chemistry. Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield just make the screen smoke with the chemistry between them. The romance and passion between them are deep and rich, complex and real. Y’lan Noel as young Isaac, Christina’s past love imbues his role with bittersweet honesty while Rob Morgan plays older Isaac with humor but also regret as he shares his side of the relationship with Michael. All of the secondary characters are complex and dynamic. Most importantly, the acting is a fantastic balance of drama and romance, humor and heat.
If there was one thing I wanted more of, it was Issa Rae. The story actually begins with Michael and while we get all sides of the narrative, I wanted just a touch more of Mae. But that said, the best part is the authenticity of the film, the way the relationships don’t build to a perfect ending and the love story isn’t just about a man and a woman but about mother and daughter.
While this film is billed as a romance and is set to be released on Valentine’s Day, I found it far more universal. It is a beautiful, complex, messy, love story. If you love stories about relationships between mothers and daughters, like struggle and humor, this film has a blend of emotion and drama that will make you fall in love. It is both the perfect date movie and a story with heart, with humor and just a touch of sizzle.
Rating: 4 out of 5 photographs.