The Photograph (2020)

“Sometimes good things take time to develop.”

Love stories need heart and heat to be convincing. The Photograph packs too little of either, and the end result is a frustrating waste of on-screen talent acting out a contrived script missing constitution or a purpose. The way to film leaps back and forth through time makes little to no sense, and how the lead actors come to fall in love is somehow even more preposterous and hollow. The Photograph captures and looks at romance the way its lifeless, stock photos counterparts in picture frames do. I still have no idea who the people in this movie are or what they’re after. It’s a handsomely shot, emotionally underdeveloped, blank slate of a film. You can get any more basic.

It’s been days since I’ve seen the movie and I have to admit that the most fundamental elements of the plot escape me. As far as I can recall, without much help from my notes hailing the film as confusing and aimless multiple times, The Photograph approaches its subject matter through three separate lenses. The past that’s dug up revolves around famed photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams, a promising young actress) and her journey from the slow harbors of the New Orleans Bayou to the bustling streets of New York. Some decades later in the modern day, Christina has unexpectedly passed and her only daughter Mae (Issa Rae), an art curator, struggles to read the letter left behind by her late mother. It’s even more difficult to deliver another envelope to her estranged father Isaac (Rob Morgan).

The final piece of this puzzle is journalist Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield). He has a dream job for any writer: take as much time as is necessary to pen a human subject piece. Michael lands on the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina, interviews his subject, runs across Mae and becomes sexually sidetracked. But how they meet lacks justification. Stanfield and Rae share tangible chemistry, with her porcelain smile and his drawn out mannerisms creating real sparks. And yet they totally lack individual personality. I never knew who these people were, what they really wanted, or why they fall in love. That last one is excusable on its own since love doesn’t always make sense, but in movies you can’t build to that point without the other contributing factors. There are too many loose ends knotted together.

The Photograph is a movie about the human element of art, and despite the title, there is no photograph that gets burned into our memory. It’s also a film framed around a journalistic, unearthing perspective. Michael’s supposedly an up-and-comer in his field yet we almost never see him do anything related to his actual career. Likewise, Mae somehow affords the kind of apartment reserved for multi-millionaires. These are petty, minor squabbles with a script that has its heart and ideals in the right place, but is so out of focus that the winning romance never comes to life. Studios need to make more romances for the big screen featuring people of color. Sadly, The Photograph and its Lifetime Channel treatment is a step in the wrong direction. It pains me to call writer/director Stella Maghie’s poorly scripted The Photograph a disappointment because there’s potential here, but after her work on 2017’s dreadful Everything, Everything, I can’t say I’m all that surprised either. All the vigor in the world couldn’t shake this Polaroid to life.

“Long distance never works.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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