Right from the start of Stella Meghie’s The Photograph you are met with an explosion of colour and passion, a warm and sensual feel and a flawed and captivating love story about wanting different things at different times and giving up. However the 70s set story this flash of life comes from accompanies a present day romance that fizzles and sputters despite impressive turns by Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield. Following journalist Michael Block (Stanfield), a reporter who comes across a story of lost love in Louisiana, one that pushes him in the path of Mae Morton (Rae) as he investigates her mother, a famous photographer who sacrificed her first love for success so many years ago. This isn’t your conventional Hollywood romance, a mixture of whimsical quips and nonsense grandiosity, instead Meghie wants her couples to live in the real world, struggle with very real issues, like the balance between work and life and the second guessing that comes from even the right choice. This plays out in heartbreaking fashion in the past with Mae’s mother, Christine, played to perfection by Chanté Adams both chasing fame and running from love, a relatable and real personal tale.
Mae and Michael on the other hand feel too cool, a cold pairing where style and look feels more relevant than who they are. Their meet-cute, brought about by work feels like the only moment of genuine connection between the two as they learn more about each other from disposable side characters that drift in and out to remind you that they have lives outside of whatever it is they are doing. Nothing makes me believe a man is a ‘good guy’ than being told it by someone I know nothing about, even if it’s told in between jovial ribbing by an amusing but superfluous Lil Rel Howery. In fact that is the main issue with The Photograph, the fact that the script spends so much time connecting you to the past that it forgets that the main meat of its story is in Mae and Michael’s possible future. There may be a shared story here, but Meghie never conveys a feeling of shared interest. Stanfield infuses his scenes with a palpable sexuality and Rae connects with the story of a mother she never really knew in an empathetic and quietly blistering performance but when they are brought together the feature loses itself and the romance it seems to be banking on. It’s all just pointless flirting that doesn’t really go anywhere.