Sporting a smooth, cosmopolitan surface, Mae Morton (Issa Rae), a high-profile museum curator, exudes confidence and wit. Inside, she ’s unsure why she can’t commit to a loving relationship. We meet Mae as she reads a heart-felt last letter from her mother, Christina Eames (Chante Adams), which both illuminates and clouds her mind as she slowly realizes her and her mother’s lives are like meandering rivers, running astonishingly parallel at times.
Enter Michael Block (LaKeith Stanfield), a respected and prolific journalist. Micheal is introduced to the late Christina Eames while on assignment in New Orleans, interviewing her childhood sweetheart, Isaac Jefferson. Micheal’s interview with Christina’s first love, gives us a window into her roots and aspirations. His course of investigation leads him to discover Mae, and he is quickly smitten. Reservation is Mae’s first response, but although she fears commitment, it only takes days to lead them to a bedroom skin scene. Meanwhile, flashbacks of Christina and Isaac (Y’Lon Noel) reappear to paint their history, rich with Tennessee Williams-like passion and breakage.
The film continues to engulf us in sub-stories of ambition, unfulfilled love, family secrets and finally, emotional victory. We share in discovery and grief as we follow Christina down her self-designed road, so narrow it precludes career and family from fitting together. In a moment of truth, Christina diverts the lives of herself and Isaac, burying the chance for a simple but rich life of love. Isaac lets her go.
Back in the present, Mae finally recognizes her childhood experiences with an ambitious mother are playing a role which governs her future. At the same time, Micheal examines his heart through the words of a now wiser Isaac. In this regard, the film offers hope as the characters’ make intentional decisions to battle the waters of inevitability, repaving their lives.
Overall, The Photograph offers a well-produced and acted film. Notably, Y’Lan Noel is exceptional in the demanding role as young Isaac, while Chante Adams delivers a wonderful and necessary multi-faceted performance, without which the film would suffer. Similarly, Rob Morgan’s exemplary performance creates the necessary weave of past and present. Both LaKeith Stanfield and Lil Red Howery (his brother, Kyle Block) are enjoyable to watch, creating a substantive viewing experience. Unfortunately, a racy skin-in-bed scene, multiple implied or discussed extramarital sex encounters, infrequent but present profanity and frequent use of alcohol prevent Dove from approval.
The Dove Take:
Although The Photograph contains questionable elements, the central message that love is more precious than worldly treasures paints the background for Mae as she seeks to discover the link between her mother’s past and her own life’s course.