By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

To coincide with Valentine’s Day weekend, Universal Pictures is hoping that their newest release will fill theaters for THE date night of the year. The Photograph does actually make for an interesting film. It features a compelling story that intertwines two romances–one of the past and one in the present. The casting of Lakeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in the lead roles is an inspired choice. Both Stanfield and Rae are hot off of the critics successes of their previous respective work; however, their casting in this romantic drama is a choice that doesn’t quite pay off.

Stanfield stars as Michael Block, a successful journalist for the New Republic Magazine working on story in Louisiana. While doing some on-location investigation, Block meets a humble fisherman named Isaac (Rob Morgan). While meeting with him, he notices a striking photograph of a much younger Isaac (Y’lan Noel). The gentleman soon after recounts his very personal story of his romance with successful, acclaimed, and recently deceased photographer Christina Eames (Chante Adams) before she was a world renowned artist. It was a romance destined for heartbreak, as Christina could not commit herself to a simpler life with Isaac who wish to remain at home.

Inspired by this intriguing story of romance found and lost, Michael does more research about Christina Eames’s personal life and discovers that she is survived by one daughter Mae (Issa Rae), an art museum curator about to open a show paying tribute to the work of her mother. Upon meeting her, Michael feels an instant attraction that reciprocated by the lovely young lady. The two begin a whirlwind romance that soon faces a familiar turning point, as Michael gets offered a major international job far from home.

Written and directed by Stella Meghie, The Photograph had the potential of being an intriguing portrait of romances from two different eras, but gets derailed by a lack of genuine chemistry between its lead actors and a particularly stiff and monotonous performance by Issa Rae. For the most part, I have no major complaints with writing of the movie. Aside from the expected tropes and familiar territory that comes with love stories, I honestly got invested in the story of romance lost and the regrets that eventually surface in the future. Now as for the modern, present day love story, the potential was there, but I feel the romance gets forced by the demands of the script, rather than by a natural chemistry between the actors.

Lakeith Stanfield gives a great performance. He has an undeniable likable charm and a respectable screen presence, but I just couldn’t buy into him having a passionate love affair with his co-star Issa Rae. I have enjoyed Rae’s work in other projects, but feel that her tentative awkwardness in the film is what upends what could have been a lovely and passionate romance. The movie features tremendous performances by Y’lan Noel, Rob Morgan, Chante Adams, and Marsha Stephanie Blake. I also enjoyed some fun turns and appearances by Lil Rel Howery, Chelsea Peretti, Kelvin Harrison Jr, and Jasmine Cephas Jones.

So, if looking for a romantic time at the movies this Valentine’s Day, I cannot honestly give this film a strong recommendation. Couples are better off watching a romantic classic or paying a revisit to one of their favorite love stories. This movie about a photograph just doesn’t launch any ships.

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