The Photograph (2020) – Film Review

Is Love All You Need?

Love is messy and unpredictable. What can begin as a physical spark can quickly dissipate into a loveless, soulless routine, while friendships can blossom into something beautiful, natural and much more intense and romantic. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, it’s not always fun and other times it downright hurts.

The Photograph isn’t a perfect rom-com. It’s not even a particularly good drama. It’s slow paced, the characters have flaws and some of the chemistry isn’t as strong as it perhaps should be. Where this film excels though is through its brutally honest, multifaceted view on the concept of love, flipping expectations for what you’d expect a film like this to be and turns it into an examination of whether love works and whether two people can be together despite adversities and obstacles.

Intertwined into this concept are two parallel timelines which can be a little difficult to fully grasp early on. For most of the picture they run separate, operating in the past and present respectively, until these two come crashing together in a beautiful third act that perfectly captures the heart of this film.

The two stories are linked together through familial bonds, with the sudden death of famed photographer Christina Eames leaving her estranged daughter Mae angry and incredulous over her Mother hiding her condition. After finding a photograph tucked away in a safety deposit box, what follows is an exploration of her Mother’s early life, something that sees Mae stumble into the arms of journalist Michael while doing so.

To be honest, the romance between Mike and Mae doesn’t always hit the right notes. Mike in particular feels pretty one-dimensional and you never really get that natural spark between the duo, despite some nice, touching moments together late on. By contrast, Christine and Isaac click instantly, which makes their story all the more tragic. It also reinforces the issues with our present day romance.

In a way it’s easy to look past these flaws. The film itself is a beautiful and honest reflection of love; not just love for a romantic partner either, the mother/daughter dynamic is ultimately the crux of the emotional drama running through the heart of this. Unfortunately this honesty also brings with it a methodically slow pace, one that may see some people lose their patience with this. Early on, the jumps back and forth are a little sporadic but as the film reaches the second act things do improve. The slow pace however, remains a staple part of this film.

Stylistically there isn’t anything particularly noteworthy or outstanding here, although the jazz soundtrack that underlays most of the film is both the best and worst part of the picture. During long stretches of dialogue, an upbeat piano or saxophone solo bleeds into the speech and this sound mixing does feel a little distracting at times. By contrast, the spontaneity of jazz itself ties into the unpredictable rhythm of love so in a way, this is a smart choice and compliments the film’s message nicely.

With a couple of well-timed jokes and some nice performances all round, The Photograph is an inoffensive, deliberately different romance that does everything it can not to fall into the usual romantic potholes you’d expect from a film like this. For that alone, The Photograph is worth checking out, with a feel-good ending and an honest message about love. It’s unlikely to be the best romance of the year, especially given the lack of chemistry our two present day leads share, but there’s just enough here to reward your patience and make the journey worth taking.

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  • Verdict - 7/10

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