Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

New York journalist Michael Block is in Louisiana working on a story related to Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil spill or something, it is not very clear, when he sees a photograph that catches his eye. The photograph is of a young woman, seated at a dining table. We are told that the woman is the former lover of the man Michael has come to interview, but that she left him long ago to become a working photographer in New York. He still carries a torch. This simple setup opens The Photograph, a story of two romances separated by decades, but directly linked.

When he returns to New York, Michael visits the museum that is preparing a retrospective of the woman’s work. As it happens, the curator of the museum, Mae, is the daughter of the artist. An attraction blossoms and very quickly the two of them are involved in a romantic relationship.

photograph inset

Stanfield and Rae

The budding romance between Michael and Mae is cross-cut with the story of her mother, Christina, and her relationship in the 1980s with Isaac, the younger version of the man who introduced Michael to her photograph. The story in the past is told through a letter Christina left for Mae to read upon her death, and the two stories parallel each other, building up towards a moment that will prove to be the ultimate test of their young relationships.

Whereas we meet Christina and Isaac after their romance has already formed, we see the opening stages of Michael’s and Mae’s relationship—from the meet-cute, through the initial flirting, and right into a full-on romantic relationship. This works against the younger relationship, as it feels rushed. As we experience it, their relationship races up to the top of the hill in only a few days. This speed rush is emphasized by the fact that by the time they must make a major decision that could make or break their relationship, Michael still has not finished the article that he has been working on since the opening frames of the film.

A relationship going from zero to long-term commitment is nothing new in Hollywood, of course, and fortunately the rushed feel of the relationship is balanced out by the fact that LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae are very compelling as Michael and Mae. They are each incredibly charming, and in every scene that they share the chemistry is obvious. This helps us lend some believability that they might be ready to make major decisions about their future together within a week or so of meeting one another.

They are given some hall-of-fame support by Lil Rel Howery, who plays Michael’s brother Kyle. Just as he did in Get Out and Brittany Runs a Marathon, Howery steals every single scene that he is in with a perfect comedic delivery. The scenes in which Stanfield and Rae interact with Howery and Teyonah Parris as his wife are the most purely enjoyable scenes in the movie.

Those scenes pretty much all come earlier in the film, and like most movie romances the most enjoyable scenes are often the earlier ones while the central romance is on the way up. This movie is no exception. As it goes on and the movie tries to connect the two romances together by more than just a familial bond, the movie trips a little bit on the lines it has tangled. The deadline ascribed the modern day relationship also feels forced and not set up very well. And the major connection between the stories that is revealed about two-thirds of the way through the movie feels more inevitable than surprising.

The falling-in-love section of The Photograph is easily when the film is the most enjoyable and entertaining. It is accompanied by a terrific, jazzy score, and the performances are compelling, lovely, and often very, very funny. Once the inevitable drama is introduced, though, the movie struggles to maintain its balance and the result is a film that ends up feeling slightly underdeveloped.

The Photograph opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s Renton Landing.