With his third feature, Barry Jenkins creates the best and warmest of all possible nests for the two young lovers at the heart of the story. Nineteen-year-old Tish realizes she's in love with childhood friend Fonny; Fonny's always known he loved Tish and discovers a clarity and joy in sculpture. They've both managed to avoid the disease plaguing their generation, a feeling of worthlessness reinforced by looking around at the world. Tish becomes pregnant, and just as they begin to secure their life together, Fonny is arrested for a rape he didn't commit. Determined to have him released before their baby is born, Tish and her family push against infuriating odds as Fonny struggles with the unfairness of his situation.
Tish and Fonny have (mostly) understanding and supportive family, neighbors willing to step up to injustice, and friends able and willing to be emotionally open and honest. Exhausting struggle just to exist is the norm – finally securing a loft apartment after weeks of blatant racism and disappointment, Fonny has to ask the young landlord – why? He bashfully says he must be his mother's son; he's a sucker for romance. Yet gestures of kindness are fragile protection in a brutally antagonistic world; we spend the entire film terrified for them, the stakes all the higher because the love present is so strong. Jenkins performs a miracle avoiding bathos while baring raw emotion, presenting the cruelty of the world and its bitter fruit without dulling the love that makes living worthwhile. And all the while giving each character genuine depth, refusing to flatten even Fonny's holy-roller mother into caricature. To call it a romance would do disservice to the honesty Jenkins brings to bear on all their lives.
It initially appeared among our collection of takes from the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which you can catch up with here.