The Photograph

LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in 'The Photograph'. (Universal Pictures)
LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae in 'The Photograph'. (Universal Pictures)


The Photograph




3/5 Stars


When famed photographer Christina Eames unexpectedly dies, she leaves her estranged daughter, Mae Morton, hurt, angry and full of questions. When a photograph tucked away in a safe-deposit box is found, Mae finds herself on a journey delving into her mother’s early life and ignites a powerful, unexpected romance with rising-star journalist Michael Block.


When celebrated photographer Christina Eames (Chanté Adams) dies, she leaves her estranged daughter, Mae (Issa Rae) with many unanswered questions.

Christina always found it hard to communicate her feelings and puts up emotional walls to protect herself against heartbreak and disappointment. But after Christina's death, she leaves her daughter with a letter, which gives Mae a deeper understanding of her mother's life and sends her on a journey of self-discovery.

The Photograph, written and directed by Stella Meghie, flips between the past and presents - exploring both mother and daughter's experience with romantic relationships.

We first meet Christina, a free-spirited aspiring photographer, during her young life in Louisiana during the eighties, where she forms a romantic relationship with Isaac Jefferson, a young crab fisherman, (Y'lan Noel). Their love affair is filled with passion, romance and excitement. But they struggle to find common ground when it comes to career and personal goals.

The past is intertwined with the present when a now older Isaac (Rob Morgan) meets journalist Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield) for an article about Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in New Orleans. While talking, Isaac shows Michael a photo of Christina - a woman he expresses great regret for letting slip through his fingers.

Michael sets out to find Christina, who had such a profound impact on Isaac's life, and after finding out that she had died, he goes to see her daughter in an attempt to learn more about his source's former lover. Michael and Mae are instantly drawn to each other, and as their romantic feelings for each other intensify, their research into Christina's life reveals more about her life in Lousiana.

We continue to flip between two decades until all the plot elements come full circle.

Although Michael and Mae's relationship is the focus of the main plot, I enjoyed Isaac and Christina's relationship more. Their love felt authentic. The chemistry between the two characters was palpable, and I was invested in every stage of their relationship. I believed the push and pull, and their love story was full of heartbreak and emotional turmoil.

I wish I would have seen more of their relationship, as well as Christina's career - and at the end of the movie, I felt cheated. Christina's storyline could have been a movie on its own, and sadly, I would have traded in screentime with Mae for more with Christina.

I had some difficulty rooting for Michael and Mae. Perhaps it was their different energies and personalities, which made it hard for me to believe their attraction and chemistry. 

I understand that Mae's mother was distant, and possibly withholding of love which could explain her tense disposition. But while Michael came across as genuine, Mae's body language was stiff.

I don't know if this was intentional, as I mentioned her character does carry a lot of baggage from the estranged relationship with her mother.

I am a massive fan of Issa Rae which makes it even harder to point out the lukewarm romantic display from Michael and Mae and the underdeveloped script.  There are also several characters, who I felt were essential to the main characters' development, who simply dropped off. And certain characters were mentioned extensively in conversation, but we were never introduced.

The Photograph tells a story of opening yourself up to love, and not choosing career over love. But I hope we're not sending a message that women shouldn't prioritise work, and if they do, they won't find success in the love department.

Despite the points I mentioned, The Photograph was easy and enjoyable to watch. Michael's brother Kyle (Lil Rel Howery), journalist intern Andy (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Mae's best friend Rachel (Jasmine Cephas Jones) shine when it came to the film's comedic moments.

One of the other standout details of The Photograph is the soundtrack. The music added a deeper level to the film, and the way the music blended the two time periods with old-school jazz, funk, and soul with modern contemporary R&B was excellent.


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