While LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae’s chemistry is definitely a highlight, I wouldn’t say their love story is at the heart of The Photograph.
I liked The Photograph, but I couldn’t fall entirely in love with it because there were just too many distractions diverting my focus from what I wanted to love most: watching Mae and Michael fall head over heels for each other.
That’s not to say I didn’t like watching Mae’s mother, Christina, and the man of her heart Isaac’s star-crossed love story. I was just frustrated that we kept being shifted away from the couple we were watching again and again.
The Photograph takes us through the flashback love story of Christina Eames and Isaac Jefferson all the way to the current day tale of Mae and Michael. We see how one mother’s past affects her daughter’s future, and learn a hell of a lot about family and all the different kinds of love we encounter every single day.
As much as I wanted this to be a sweeping romance for LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae’s characters, ultimately, this story isn’t really even about them. I mean, sure, their connection is what sends Issa Rae’s Mae diving into her mother’s life and history, but the real love story here is the twisted and complicated connection between a daughter and a mother, with an intricate father and a step-father tacked on as well.
And I would have been happy to watch a story about a complicated mother/daughter relationship with the father storyline as an added bonus, but that’s not what The Photograph was sold as. And I mean, with a Valentine’s weekend release, they may have leaned heavier on the romance rather than familial love story to get more people in theaters. But I think that strategy does the movie a disservice.
For every second we spend with Michael and Mae together on screen, it feels like we spend at least 10 more away from them, or with them apart. Usually that ebb and flow increases the tension in a love story, but here, the time away just alienates the audience from the connection until they’re together on screen again.
That said, the nuanced story plays well. Issa Rae uses her emotive eyes to sell the ups and downs of a newly blossoming love. I believed the attraction and mixed feelings of the brand new relationship brewing between Michael and Mae.
I loved watching as LaKeith and Issa Rae’s characters felt each other out a bit, trying to decide if this was the one to fight for, or if they should let the distance spell defeat. I just wish I had seen more of their chemistry, if maybe their story could have spent more time together, rather than seeing them apart, discussing their chemistry with everyone else.
Bottom line is, I wish I had either gotten more of the Mae and Michael story, or gone in expecting a different movie. Either way, I think I would have enjoyed The Photograph more than I did. There was a solid foundation built at the beginning, but the final act of this film just didn’t bring home the all-encompassing love story I was hoping for.