The Photograph: Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield

The Photograph film review: Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield provide picture-perfect romantic escapism

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Warm and engaging but never challenging, The Photograph is about to become essential self-care Sunday viewing.

One of the best scenes in The Photograph shows the two central characters in the corner of a chic, dimly lit bar, heads bent together as they debate who is the better rapper: Drake or Kendrick Lamar.

Mae, a quick-witted, well put-together museum curator played by Issa Rae, backs Drake – Kendrick’s politicism makes her feel guilty. “Everybody can’t be a change in the world,” she says. “It’s too ambitious!”

Her date Michael (Lakeith Stanfield), a laidback journalist, smirks knowingly at this, and the audience breathes out. That one line could be The Photograph’s mission statement, because this isn’t a story exploring trauma or the black American experience – important as those stories are. It is simply one of love, and the many emotional tributaries that run into it.

The Photograph: Chanté Adams plays photographer Christina Eames alongside Y’lan Noel
The Photograph: Chanté Adams plays photographer Christina Eames alongside Y’lan Noel.

Two main plots entwine in The Photograph. In the present day, Michael is researching a story about a late photographer named Christina Eames, and in the process he begins a flirtation with Mae, the neglected daughter she left behind. 

Their backdrop is a sleek, spotless version of New York – all marbled lofts and rain-slicked Manhattan streets – that juxtaposes beautifully with the flashbacks to hazy 1980s Louisiana, where we see Christina’s early life play out as she rails against the threat of a small, passionless life.

The script can be clunky at times, but a few predictable lines aren’t enough to take the shine off the stars – particularly Stanfield, whose lingering looks and lazy drawl are the stuff of romcom dreams. Brilliant, too, are the supporting cast, with a memorable Lil Rel Howery and Teyonah Parris playing Michael’s brother and sister-in-law, an example of the fun and friendship that long-term relationships can nurture.

The Photograph: Teyonah Parris and Lil Rel Howery play a memorable young couple.
The Photograph: Teyonah Parris and Lil Rel Howery as a playful married couple are a highlight.

Much of the film is set in the evening, giving it a sumptuous, sophisticated feel. Director Stella Meghie – who has worked with Rae before, directing an episode of her HBO series Insecure told Oprah Magazine that when making a film, she always wanted it “to feel like you’re in a warm bath for a few hours”, and she more than succeeds here.     

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The Photograph is a visually stylish treat that puts black love front and centre, something still so rarely seen in Hollywood films. Engrossing but never challenging, it is destined to become a self-care Sunday staple for years to come.

Images: NBC Universal

The Photograph is in cinemas now

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Meena Alexander

Meena Alexander is Stylist magazine’s features editor.

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