"The Photograph" is an appropriate title for the new romantic drama starring LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae.
Writer/director Stella Meghie has crafted a gorgeous looking film with two strong leads and a hypnotic score, but it all gets undermined by a story that relies way too much on contrived plot devices and romantic cliches - leaving this stylish romance painfully thin of substance.
Stanfield plays Michael, a reporter who is doing a story on a Louisiana fisherman (Rob Morgan). During the course of the interview, the fisherman tells Michael a story about a woman that made a profound impact on his life that he hasn't seen for more than 30 years.
Michael goes looking for this woman, now a famous photographer, only to learn from her daughter Mae (Rae) that the woman has recently passed away. As Michael and Mae talk, they start to sense an attraction - with a relationship developing.
While Mae and Michael explore their feelings, the story is intertwined with flashbacks of the relationship between the photographer and fisherman - creating a relationship that seems to parallel the modern day couple.
Meghie's eye for the material is impressive. The cinematography is exquisite and the jazzy score creates a mood and vibe the perfectly fits these characters. Rae and Stanfield have instant chemistry that make their relationship believable, while Chelsea Peretti and Y'lan Noel are effective in the flashbacks.
But Meghie's script completely destroys all the good will. It feels like two or three movies fighting with each other with the flashbacks throwing the pace of the film off. The biggest problem with the script is how convenient everything is - with conversations had, or a lot of times not had, just to manipulate the direction of the plot. There are several moments in "The Photograph" where a single conversation could have caused the rest of the plot to come crashing down like a house of cards. It makes these characters that are otherwise fleshed out, feel two-dimensional and manipulated pawns.
Rae and Stanfield deserved a better script. The audience deserved better too, because "The Photograph" certainly has the look - but it's looks prove to be quite deceiving.