The Eddy mini-series Review: Too offbeat for its own good
The actors in The Eddy deliver raw and searingly honest performances, but an acting exercise doesn't necessarily mean great storytelling
Almost every major international publication announced The Eddy as the new creation of director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land). Having seen the new Netflix series, I learned that that credit is reserved for Jack Thorne (Glue, His Dark Materials), with Chazelle directing only the first two episodes and serving as an executive producer.
Creator: Jack Thorne
Cast: Andre Holland, Joanna Kulig, Amandla Stenberg, Tahar Rahim
Streaming on: Netflix
It makes sense why Chazelle was tasked to lay the foundation stone. Music is his pet subject, and as in all of the filmmaker's earlier films, except First Man, music has a prominent presence in The Eddy, named after the Paris jazz club owned by Elliott (Andre Holland from Moonlight). He is a well-known name in the jazz scene, but the club is not doing too well at the moment.
When the first episode opens, we find Elliott at his bar, in a disenchanted state. The music is weak. It doesn't have the necessary emotion and energy. He feels it, and so do we. It sometimes rises and falls with varying, and, occasionally bizarre rhythms. The same quality is reflected in the characters and storytelling too. I understand it's intentional, but it's not helpful if one is looking for potential binge-watch material.
It not only wants to be about jazz but also family and crime. I don't want to spoil the details for obvious reasons. But this isn't the riveting stuff found in far superior crime shows. The Eddy is more interested in following its characters, exploring their angst and observing their unpleasant interactions, sometimes with their family members. This is mostly a story of broken relationships -- between parents and children; between siblings.
Like Into the Night, a recent Netflix release, The Eddy devotes each episode to a character. However, unlike that show, this one spends a lot of time with some characters. The filmmakers' passion for their material certainly comes through, but it's not easy to sit through something that feels more like an acting exercise. The overall offbeat nature of the series requires a tremendous amount of patience.
One particular episode is dedicated entirely to a funeral — you are made to go through the before and after rituals — while another one is about a bassist who has to endure the pain of watching his former flame get married to someone else. It's this sudden attention to background characters who up until that point didn't seem important that makes the whole thing such a drag. To give a sense of the show's jarring quality, there is a scene, right before the funeral begins, where Elliott and his daughter witness a group of nude protesters cycling past them.
The actors deliver raw and searingly honest performances, but The Eddy doesn't give us one likeable character and that works to the show's detriment. The only likeable character is let go in the first episode itself. Not that I have a problem with unlikeable characters, but I'd rather watch them in a two-hour film than an eight-hour series. I find it easier to sit through a series if it features at least one character worth rooting for, even if they have shades of grey. None of the characters is interesting enough to warrant spending eight hours with them.
I've noticed that some of the recent shows from Netflix have a complicated father-daughter bond at its core. Elliott, who is divorced, spends a significant amount of time trying to control his teenage daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg in a scene-stealing performance). She takes us to some of the most uncomfortable places in the story. But so do the others.
My interest in the series has mostly to do with my interest in jazz, but the music doesn't have that eargasmic quality I was expecting. Again, I'm assuming it's meant to be that way. Perhaps it would've been easier had they gone with pre-existing music and not original material which, after a point, is nothing but noise. But not all of it is bad. We also get some nicely written music moments, like how an unforeseen tragic situation gives an initially bland song a much-needed warmth the second time around.
The overall visual style is unappealing, often emulating the cinema verite look of the French New Wave. This is not the Paris from the postcards, paintings or desktop wallpapers. The Paris here is stripped of all its beauty and allure. At times, it resembles a John Cassavetes film. Elliott and his girlfriend Maja (Joanna Kulig from Cold War) are to this series what Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands were to -- well, all the films they did together.
Watching The Eddy is akin to eating something nutritious and bitter at the same time. Sure, every actor is in top form, but then an acting exercise doesn't necessarily mean great storytelling. To quote a character from an earlier Chazelle work: Not quite my tempo.