The Photograph actually begins with a different love story: a doomed one in the 1980s between Isaac (Insecure’s Y’lan Noel), a crab fisherman in coastal Louisiana, and the young, stir-crazy Christina Eames (Chante Adams), hungry to leave and make her name in photography. In the present, Michael Block (Stanfield), a dissatisfied journalist from New York, travels to Louisiana for a story on something pertaining to life after the Deepwater Horizon spill. He interviews Isaac, now bald and wizened and still keeping a photo of Christina, a successful photographer, on the mantel. Enticed by Christina’s come-hither stare in the photo, Michael looks up her name in New York, and stumbles upon her estranged daughter, Mae (Rae). You see where this is going.
Except, curiously, the film keeps the stakes frustratingly low. Michael and Mae – both single and, we are told by their respective sidekicks, wary of settling down or putting careers on the back-burner – immediately and obviously like each other (cue long stares, something Stanfield seems to know is his speciality). Both have good jobs and New York apartments, stylish wardrobes and at least one confidante. The only roadblock is their own hesitancy, played out in lackluster scenes in which they talk about maybe continuing to get to know each other and their preferences for Drake or Kanye or Kendrick.
The script is distractingly underdeveloped. The Photograph wants to tell a generational story of learning from the past to prioritize love (which, unfortunately, swerves too closely to admonishing a woman for prioritizing her career too much) but given that you already know how both are going to end from the beginning (you learn in the first scene that Christina leaves Isaac for New York, and there’s never doubt that Mae and Michael will do … something), the plot merely fizzles. When things do heat up, especially between Michael and Mae, it’s stilted – the dialogue swings quickly from statement (Michael is considering a job in London) to baldly stated plot point (“What does that mean for us?”).
It’s easy viewing – in that case, it does its job. It’s hardly unwatchable, despite a distinct lack of chemistry between Stanfield and Rae. (Michael’s friendship with aspiring intern Andy, Kelvin Harrison Jr, and Andy’s flirtation with Mae’s sidekick Rachel, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, have way more spark than the leads.)