‘The Photograph’: 5 things to know about the Issa Rae, LaKeith Stanfield romance

If you saw the trailer for Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfeld‘s new movie, you probably already know plenty about “The Photograph” (in theaters now).

For one, you’re aware that it features a gorgeously lit cast. Also, you can tell that it has some awkward, first-date banter between the leads. And you’re attuned to the fact that the film features alluring, moody music (both Lucky Daye and H.E.R. are featured).

But what else should you know before you decide to celebrate Valentine’s Day at the movies with this romantic film from writer/director Stella Meghie? Here are five things that should help.

‘Love & Basketball’ was a big influence

Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan starred in "Love and Basketball."

The 2000 film’s plot isn’t similar to “The Photograph,” but the the fact that “Love & Basketball” was made by a black female filmmaker with an eye for swoon-worthy romance certainly impacted Meghie, who told The Atlantic that she could “probably recite the entire script” of “Love & Basketball.” Rae, who plays Mae in “The Photograph,” said in an interview with Variety that “Love & Basketball” is the movie that made her want to become a filmmaker. “It was just a regular love story that wasn’t rooted in any kind of trauma. It wasn’t rooted in any major deceptions.”

LaKeith Stanfield is the latest star to play a reporter

LaKeith Stanfield and Issa Rae sit where their characters meet up for drinks, along with "The Photograph" writer/director Stella Meghie.

Stanfeld plays Michael, a reporter for fictional newspaper The Republic, who meets a man living in Louisiana while investigating a story. That man shares plenty of decades-old pictures, including one photograph (ahem, the movie title) of a woman he lost touch with. That woman turns out to be, as we learn early on in the film, Mae’s late mother (the wonderful Chanté Adams). Thus, a meet-cute between reporter Michael and museum curator Mae is imminent. The two click, and their modern story is told along with the retro one about Mae’s mother and the Louisiana man (played in the present by a heartbreaking Rob Morgan and in the past by a strapping Y’lan Noel).

Reviews are mostly positive

Critics praised the casting in "The Photograph," but had complaints about some of the story.

As of Friday morning, the film held an 80% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics highlighting the likability of the film’s cast – while also pointing at inconsistencies in the plot.

Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang called “The Photograph” “a movie of seductive, slow-savored pleasures” while wishing that the story “had achieved a more exquisite balance between its parallel tracks.” 

Indiewire’s Kate Erbland writes that “the open-hearted drama, titled ‘The Photograph’ but perhaps better referred to as ‘The Photographer’ or even ‘The Letter,’ can never quite bridge its individual stories, awkwardly shuffling between the pair and never giving either their full due.” AV Club’s Caroline Siede says that the stars have an easy chemistry and supporting characters including Mike’s brother played by Lil Rel Howery are charismatic, but the film occasionally “feels more like a low-key riff on the formulaic works of Nicholas Sparks.” 

Issa Rae’s devotion to Drake is highlighted

Michael (LaKeith Stanfield) and Mae (Issa Rae) nervously flirt in "The Photograph."

Fans of Rae know that the actress has long loved Drake. On her show “Insecure,” she made references to his songs throughout Season 1, and she also appeared in the artist’s “Nice For What” music video. 

In “The Photograph,” Mae and Michael’s flirty argument about Drake versus Kendrick Lamar is a movie through-line. Drake’s songs sound they’re coming from a “friend you know,” Mae says in defense of Drake. Lamar “makes me feel guilty,” she jokes. “Not everybody can change the world.”

There’s a killer soundtrack 

The songs from "The Photograph" should put you in a lovey mood.

The soulful sounds of Al Green and Luther Vandross are heard in the movie, as is a fabulous jazz score from Robert Glasper. You’ll want to add these songs to your Valentine’s Day playlist.

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