Sylvie's Love Movie Review: Love in the waning jazz era
An endearing love story that works thanks to its sheer simplicity
Eugene Ashe presents an endearing love story set against the backdrop of a waning jazz era. Sylvie’s Love is representative of many of the said period’s (late 50s/early 60s) timeless romantic classics. What makes it something worth investing in is its sheer simplicity. The period in which the narrative begins was a different time altogether. Sylvie’s mother, a picture of etiquette and bearing (as well as a finishing school instructor), reminds her that she must marry within or above her social standing, never below. As it turns out, she is slated to wed an extremely successful and wealthy black man from Harlem.
Robert Holloway (B-flat to those who know him well), on the other hand, is a broke, up-and-coming saxophone player performing at various jazz clubs across New York with his band. They may be of the same African American heritage, but belong to widely different worlds. These worlds converge when Robert walks into a record store in search of work and sees Sylvie immersed in her TV. They gradually connect over their respective dreams and musical preferences. But life is far from simple. And, as per her mother’s wishes, Sylvie’s prospects are meant to be elsewhere.
Director – Eugene Ashe
Cast – Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Aja Naomi King, Eva Longoria
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
What the film teaches you through the lead character’s journey is that no matter how successful or happy your future may appear through someone else’s eyes, it means little if your heart is set on other pastures. A strong sense of purpose, despite acquiring all the things her mother has wished for her, seems to be missing. Another telling message is the importance of independence through employment, especially for a woman of Sylvie’s background and social standing. Sylvie’s story revolves around finding herself, following what she truly longs for, and not second-guessing herself despite many well-intentioned opinions. And Robert’s story is that of sticking with his dream of being one of the finest jazz musicians going around.
Sylvie’s Love also touches upon some of the pressing racial shifts of the time, albeit briefly, as witnessed in one scene where Sylvie and her husband are entertaining his white business associate and wife at their home. Sylvie is less than pleased to find out her husband is chosen to head a million-dollar account because the company is ticking boxes in the area of representation. The subtle racism spouting from the wife’s mouth as she relays this information to Sylvie in a matter-of-fact way hits a nerve. The narrative may be set in the exciting world of jazz clubs and parties, but make no mistake, conservatism lurks beneath the surface. Marrying below one’s class is frowned upon, so is adultery or having a child out of wedlock.
Robert’s rise as the next Coltrane is imminent but the slow death of jazz as a musical art form is all too apparent. Record executives speak of successful new black artists on the horizon without mentioning a single jazz virtuoso among them. Producers, agents and music hustlers fail to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to the subject of Robert’s solo act. The film is, in more ways than one, an authentic representation of the world it inhabits.
At the heart of the bond between Sylvie and Robert is a level of sacrifice worthy of only the best love stories. Robert unselfishly lets Sylvie go in order to see her happy, and years later when they reunite, the latter agrees to follow him to Detroit for his music career despite being appointed the new producer of a TV show. Their story, with all the ‘what-if’ and ‘will they/won’t they’ questions, epitomises the adage of setting free someone you love. What happens beyond that is left to chance. Sylvie’s Love is genuinely appealing thanks to the cast led by Thompson and Asomugha. There are enough romantic reasons to watch this pretty little film, but watch it for the jazz music and the 60s costumes, if not for anything else.