Watching “The Photograph” is like looking through a friend’s old photo album — it’s not as exciting as your friend thinks it is.
The film begins with Michael (Lakeith Stanfield), a New York journalist, visiting a fisherman’s Louisiana home for a story about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He spots some dusty black-and-white pictures and, entranced, asks who took them.
An old flame of the man’s, it turns out, who hopped the bus to New York decades earlier. So, for who knows what reason, Michael tracks down the photographer’s estranged daughter, Mae (Issa Rae), who tells him her mom recently died of cancer. Like all journalists do in movies, the rover starts a romance with her.
Director Stella Meghie’s movie jumps back and forth through time to Mom’s long-ago love affair with the fisherman — as Mae seeks to uncover secrets about her own past. Through flashbacks, we come to understand her mother’s free-spirited choice to leave Louisiana, and her man, for New York City. Oh, the timelessness of love and loss!
Beautiful ideas, all. But, for a movie about big, sweeping emotions across generations, there isn’t much emoting going on here. It’s a movie on mood stabilizers. In an effort to be true to life, “The Photograph” tends toward Borg-style acting, expressionless, soft-spoken and matter-of-fact. And, while Stanfield and Rae are appealing, it’s a stretch to root for a romance that’s so dull, and confusing.
Their director gets caught in the same trap many movies do, explaining the plot’s narrative leaps with: “He’s a reporter. Of course, he’d do that crazy thing!” Neither the buildup of the relationship nor its timeline made a lick of sense to me. And it’s strangely joyless for a fling — bathed, like an old photograph, in sepia.
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