It’s an age-old tale of a relationship that could never work. She’s from an upwardly mobile middle class family with dreams of doing something big with her life. He’s a jazz musician from the wrong side of the tracks. SYLVIE’S LOVE treads very familiar ground but it’s better than it deserves to be thanks to the committed performances of its two charismatic leads.
The time is 1962 and Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson, MIB: INTERNATIONAL; AVENGERS: ENDGAME; the CREED films; THOR: RAGNAROK; TV’s WESTWORLD) is standing outside the Town Hall in Manhattan waiting for her companion to arrive. Sylvie notices jazz saxophonist Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha, who also served as the film’s producer), walking by. Flashback five years earlier and Sylvie is working in her father’s record store in Harlem. Robert sees Sylvie from the street and notices the shop’s Help Wanted sign. Even though they really aren’t looking for extra help, Sylvie’s dad hires Robert on the spot. Though the free-spirited Sylvie is glued to her TV set dreaming of one day being a television producer, and the down-to-earth Robert himself dreams of being the next John Coltrane, the pair manage to find common ground and begin a relationship much to the disappointment of Sylvie’s mother who would rather see her daughter settle down with a man from a well-to-do family who has a stable career than with a lowly musician who lives from gig to gig.
SYLVIE’S LOVE is a throwback to the romances of the 1950s and ’60s with a bit of a twist. Here, Sylvie is far more self-actualized and ambitious than, let’s say, Holly Golightly or Kathy Selden, and just when you think she and Robert are going to live happily ever after, the story throws them some relationship curves that were never dealt with in TV shows like I LOVE LUCY or MY THREE SONS. The biggest sin SYLVIE’S LOVE makes is that it conveniently glosses over what life was really like for African-Americans at that time. The burgeoning civil rights movement is covered with just a phone call from Sylvie to her best friend Mona (Aja Naomi King, TV’s HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER), who has become a peripheral organizer of the movement. Similarly, institutional racism is dealt with in an uncomfortable comment made by one of Sylvie’s very White dinner guests. Of course, the argument could be made that not every movie about Blacks living in America in the 1960s needs to be about social injustice and inequality but to minimize it is akin to a Holocaust movie where a secondary character loses his job due to the Nuremberg Laws.
That being said, Thompson and Asomugha make for a mighty fine looking couple and have wonderful on-screen chemistry together. The film also features a cameo from Eva Longoria (TV’s DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES), who plays Carmen, Robert’s band-leader’s wife. She performs a sultry version of Quizás, Quizás, Quizás. Fans of the series BRIDGERTON will also be pleased to see its breakout star, Regé-Jean Page, here as Robert’s bandmate, Chico. Production design by Mayne Berke (THE PRINCESS DIARIES) and costumes by Phoenix Mellow (BLACK PANTHER) are as good as anything we’ve seen so far on TV’s THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAIZEL. Disappointingly, the film’s soundtrack contains more pop songs from that era than jazz ones, but that may have been to reflect the changing musical tastes of the time. The story shows Robert struggling to find his footing as a jazz musician just as Motown’s influence on music is growing. I suppose that’s fair but jazz didn’t exactly go the way of the dinosaur in the 1960s with tenor sax players like Johnny Griffin, Wayne Shorter and Coleman Hawkins still maintaining busy careers during that time. Granted, Griffin went off to France to do it (just as Robert does) but his reasons for leaving the US were tax- and marriage-related.
SYLVIE’S LOVE is available now on Amazon Prime Video. Yes, it’s essentially an African-American take on LA LA LAND for Hallmark Channel-watching White folk who think they’re woke but it’s not bad.
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