Romance has been heavy in the air on the festival circuit. Several films, including Ammonite and Sylvie’s Love, have pushed the genre back into the consciousness. While studios have often avoided epic tales of romance, the genre continues to find small innovations that make it worthy of attention. Really Love, the debut feature of Angel Kristi Williams, carves out its own place as a beautiful and artistic romance. While Really Love does not reinvent the genre, Williams’ direction showcases the talent of a savvy director.
One night at a D.C. art show, law student Stevie (Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing) meets an up-and-coming artist Isaiah (Kofi Siriboe). The two hit it off immediately, and begin a whirlwind romance. Isaiah begins to gain momentum as an artist, working with agent Chenai (Uzo Aduba) and his mentor Yusef (Michael Ealy) to develop his talents. At the same time, Stevie begins receiving offers around the country, including a position with her dream job in Chicago. The two must choose between their relationship and their professional lives.
Williams’ direction elevates a fairly straightforward narrative. The “will they, won’t they” questions are far less impressive than the intimate moments and visual storytelling from Williams. Gorgeous lighting and cinematography pave the way for a steamy romance. Even simplistic visuals are elevated thanks to excellent framing. Early in the film, a dichotomy of blue and red lighting creates wildly gorgeous images that perpetuate the images of literal art created in the narrative. The lights and shadows create images reminiscent of modern art. Very sexual sequences are lit in ways we rarely seen on the big screen. The worship of black faces and bodies is gorgeous, and this celebration creates stunning imagery.
Siriboe continues to build his star. The Queen Sugar and Girls Trip actor proves up the task as a romantic lead. He dominates the scenes with his charisma but shows subtle vulnerability when pressured by those around him. His confidence fluctuates throughout his interactions, and Siriboe creates a complex image of an artist in the process. Wong-Loi-Sing elevates the often thankless role of a love-struck partner. She imbues confidence in her work, especially when her character is confronted. She brings out pain and frustration when pushed to the side, but she never loses authenticity. The slights and microaggressions leveled against her come from all angles, but her ability to understand her needs are communicated through her physicality in the role. The chemistry between Siriboe and Wong-Loi-Sing sells the steamy relationship and becomes a strength of Really Love.
While the leads and direction are excellent, the story does come across as a rather plain tale. Questions of gentrification float around the outside of the story, but other films have handled the issue with more nuance. Stories like this one have a long history in film, including other films this year. Williams keeps the film moving, and there are few wasted sequences as a result. However, it also simplifies the plot. Questions of whether the artist can make money or having disapproving parents feel still feel slight. It’s unlikely that Really Love will be considered an all-time romance, partially because of the fairly basic story at the heart of it.
Really Love features great talent, all of whom elevate the story at every turn. Williams deserves much of the credit, but the cast and crew work to elevate the material as a whole. From unique and wonderful costumes to brilliant cinematography, the visuals pop. Wong-Loi-Sing and Siriboe push each other and have wonderful chemistry. It’s a wonderful romance, one that will make you joyful to have spent time with Williams and her crew.