Review by Sean Boelman
One of the awesome things about AFI FEST is that it tries to shine a spotlight on some of the AFI Conservatory’s alumni, giving one film with significant alumni contributors a prominent spot in the lineup. This year, that is Angel Kristi Williams’s romance Really Love, produced by alumna Mel Jones and edited by alumnus Steven Pristin, and while it may be pretty conventional, it’s also authentic and beautiful, making up for its shortcomings.
The movie follows a Black painter trying to break into the art world as he falls in love with a perky law student with aspirations of her own, sending them into a whirlwind of passion. The script by Williams and Felicia Pride sticks pretty closely to the established Romeo and Juliet beats of two soulmates separated by issues of class, but it’s the context in which they set the film that really stands out.
Admittedly, the familiarity of the story may lead to some viewers not finding the movie to be as entertaining. There’s definitely something irresistibly charming about the joyous celebration of love and art that this film offers, especially since Williams’s vision is very developed. And even though the movie is predictable, it is very restrained and doesn’t go too far into melodrama.
Many of the film’s greatest successes are in how it explores what it means to be a creator in the Black community. Unfortunately, voices like the ones depicted in the movie are too often denied the chance to get the spotlight, but thankfully there are voices like Williams’s to tell stories like these that will hopefully make a positive impact towards inclusivity.
One of the film’s shortcomings is that its character development is somewhat unbalanced. There are some really interesting things happening in the male protagonist’s story, but unfortunately, his love interest’s arc is much more generic. Her struggles with disapproving parents are far less compelling than his struggles in trying to make it in the art world.
That said, the two lead performers both do an amazing job. Kofi Siriboe and Yootha Wong-Loi-Sang have excellent chemistry together, and this is a big part of what sells the love story aspect. Siriboe is a particular standout, bringing a lot of empathy and humanity to the role. And in the supporting cast, Michael Ealy and Uzo Aduba both have strong turns.
Additionally, the movie is quite the visual treat. Obviously, given the fact that it centers around a character who is a prolific artist, one would expect there to be a great deal of aestheticism involved. And from the paintings showcased to the cinematography that is picturesque itself, it’s gorgeous to look at. The score also does an amazing job of creating the atmosphere.
Really Love isn’t exceptional in its originality, but it stands out because of its refreshing approach to these common ideas and beats, contributing to the conversation in an intriguing way. It’s a quiet and lovely little romance that is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Really Love debuted at the 2020 AFI FEST which runs virtually October 15-22.