Jam21 Entertainment/Seven Word Letter Films/Amazon Studios
Written and Directed by Eugene Ashe
Produced by Eugene Ashe/Nnamdi Asomugha/Gabrielle Glore/Jonathan Baker/Matthew Thurm
Music by Fabrice Lecomte
Cinematography by Declan Quinn
Edited by Dana Congdon
While it isn’t necessary to be familiar with the films of Douglas Sirk to enjoy SYLVIE’S LOVE it also doesn’t hurt to have at least seen a couple of his lush Technicolor melodramas of the 1950s and 1960s because that’s the arena SYLVIE’S LOVE is working in. It’s a movie not only set in the 1960s it’s done in the style of those movies made in that period as well. Which means that it’s very much an old-fashioned love story with skillful actors who convincingly play characters that live and work in that period. I always look suspiciously at period films of recent years featuring African-Americans because sometimes they don’t tend to act like African-Americans of whatever period they’re supposed to be in. They talk and act like people of today which kinda takes me out of the story.
Such isn’t the case with SYLVIE’S LOVE, though. There’s a relaxed honesty with these actors and their characters. They’re not trying to convince us that they’re in the 1960s. The actors simply inhabit the characters and walk around in their skins. They’re helped by great costuming and a wonderful soundtrack that will have you tapping your toes and all that works together to charm and seduce. The generous use of Technicolor stock footage for New York exteriors go a long way to enhancing the illusion that this could have indeed been a lost movie from the 1960s.
Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha) is a wonderfully talented saxophonist who spends his nights playing with a struggling jazz quartet where he’s not the bandleader but he’s undoubtably the main draw of the group. He takes a day job in a record store on impulse having spied Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson) through the window and is soon impressed not only by Sylvie’s musical knowledge but her ambition. She wants to produce television shows and is just killing time working in her father’s store while trying to figure out how to get out of a marriage arraigned by her mother to Lacy (Alano Miller) who’s rich as hell but dull as dishwater.
During the summer Robert and Sylvie work together, they enjoy a truly sweet relationship that starts out as friendship and develops into a romance. And one of the pleasures of the movie is that we are able to watch this relationship develop. Robert and Sylvie don’t fall into bed ten minutes after they clap eyes on each other (Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That) but they each have goals, dreams and aspirations for their lives and need to be sure that whoever they fall in love with understands and respects that. And in Sylvie’s case she has certain obligations to her family that she isn’t sure about but that she feels she should honor.
And like all great romances, the one between Robert and Sylvie is tested by decisions they make. Decisions that aren’t necessarily bad or good. They just seemed to be the right ones to make at the time they were made and not meant to hurt anyone. And yet they do. But five years after that magical summer, Robert and Sylvie get another chance at love and still more decisions that have to be made. But will these be the right decisions this time?
If you only know Tessa Thompson from “Creed” and “Creed II” or “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Avengers: Endgame” her quiet performance here may take you by surprise. Never once does she display the larger-than-life qualities of her characters in those movies but she holds the screen with authority and presence. I’ve never seen her co-star Nnamdi Asomugha in anything else but I’m going to pay attention the next time I see him in a movie. He’s got good chemistry with Tessa Thompson and they make a couple I found myself really hoping that would get through their difficulties and find a way to be together.
What else did I like about the movie? Rock and roll, jazz and R&B were prominent elements of the story so we get to hear a lot of great music. And while the Civil Right Movement of the 1960s is mentioned it’s not a major factor of the story and I’m okay with that. Not every black person of the 1960s lived, breathed, ate and slept The Civil Right Movement. Don’t take this as me disparaging the importance of The Civil Right Movement. I’m just saying that not every story told about black people in the 1960s has to be about that. SYLVIE’S LOVE is a love story and the movie keeps the focus on that love story. And for me, it worked.
Be advised that this isn’t a movie with bombastically big drama scenes with people yelling and cussing and throwing things during arguments or having sex while swinging from the chandeliers. When I say it’s a movie made in the style of 1960s dramas, I’m serious. And as a result, it’s told in a manner that some might find slow or tedious. But I appreciate a love story that takes it’s time to show us not only two people falling in love but why they fall in love and how. Because it’s on Amazon Prime with so many other movies to watch, you may pass this one by. I’m giving you gentle advice that you shouldn’t. Especially now we need a heartfelt and satisfying love story and that’s exactly what SYLVIE’S LOVE is.