“I like my work,” said late photographer Christina Eames (voice of Chante Adams), “but I wish I was as good at love as I am at working. I wish I didn’t leave people behind me so often.” Christina recorded her words 30 years ago in 1989, after leaving her lover, Isaac Jefferson (Rob Morgan), in Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana, for a successful photographic career in New York City. Now, journalist Michael Block (Lakeith Stanfield), researching Christina’s career, is smitten by Mae Eames (Issa Rae), Christina’s estranged daughter, an assistant curator at Queens Art Museum. Ironically, he’s thinking of leaving her in New York and advancing his career in London. That’s the setup for “The Photograph,” a romantic drama that intertwines the two stories, both of them about love and work.
What was Isaac Jefferson’s story after Christina left Louisiana? Will Michael leave Mae for his London career? What do Isaac and Mae learn from Christina’s revealing letters left for them? For answers, see “The Photograph.”
Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield are attractive and convincing central characters, Mae and Michael. Their slow, tentative romance is full of small talk: “Do you ever wonder if we’re just who we are in the moment?” asks Mae. “I want to continue getting to know you,” says Michael, gazing sensitively at Mae. “I want to know you, too,” she says. In Louisiana, Michael talks with mournful Isaac, played well by Rob Morgan. He remembers Christina before she left. “She didn’t know much about photography when she started taking pictures,” he says, “but I should have gone after her.” We see Chante Adams as Christina in flashbacks and hear her voice as Mae reads her mother’s final, apologetic letter: “My Mae,” she wrote, “I need to write my way out of the mess I made.”
Others in the cast include sympathetic Courtney B. Vance as Mae’s birth father, Louis Morton. Lil’ Rel Howery is Kyle, Michael’s older brother, and Teyonah Parris is Asia, Kyle’s happy wife. Kelvin Harrison Jr. plays Michael’s eager journalism intern, Andy Morrison. Jasmine Cephas-Jones is Mae’s museum friend, attracted to Andy. Dakota Paradise plays young Mae Eames.
Written and directed by Stella Meghie, “The Photograph” is “modern and vintage romance,” critic Candice Frederick writes. It’s beautifully filmed by cinematographer Mark Schwartzbard. Robert Glasper composed the low-key jazz score. Listen for Al Green, Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross as well. Sometimes muddled (for me) editing by Shannon Baker Davis.
Rated PG-13 for sexuality and brief language, “The Photograph” runs 106 minutes.
In “The Photograph,”
See Michael and Mae,
Christina, Isaac —
It’s Valentine’s Day.