Review: Sylvie's Love
Sylvie's Love is an old-fashioned film, the kind of film Douglas Sirk would have made. If this was the 1950's, Slyvie's Love would have been marketed to housewives. It would have also featured a primarily white cast. The film's modest plot is nothing groundbreaking but the film's black cast are and they are terrific. Sylvie's Love is a charming, warm, and romantic film.
This year has seen several black filmmakers reclaim jazz narratives and writer-director Eugene Ashe knows how to make the music and culture here feel authentic. The set design and costumes do a wonderful job of creating the mid-century look. It feels like a film from 1950s in so many ways thanks to Ashe's careful direction. Add in the scorching chemistry between Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha and you get one of the more sumptuous romances of the year.
Sylvie (Thompson) and Robert (Asomugha) meet at her father's record store. She is working there, waiting on her fiancé to return from the Korean War. He's a jazz sax virtuoso just visiting New York for the summer to play in a quartet. He gets a day job at the record store and the two soon bond over their love of music and their ambitions. Robert is good enough to become a lead sax player and Sylvie wants to become a TV executive.
All is not roses for the two but for the first hour of Sylvie's Love, the two leads cast a romantic spell over viewers. Their courtship is genuinely charming and engaging. Over time, their love hits some hurdles. Robert gets a gig in Paris and Sylvie doesn't join him even though she is carrying his child. She marries and he tours with the quartet until 5 years later when they meet again randomly and the sparks between them ignite once again.
Cinematographer Declan Quinn, who shot Hamilton, finds a way to shoot the film in a nostalgic glow. His attention to the grain and haze of film stock from that time is impeccable. The period music and score by Fabrice Lecomte also create the film's illusion of being from another period in time. Sylvie's Love is a gorgeous film to look at.
Narratively, however, the film does hit a few off notes. The film's second half never recaptures the allure of the first half. This is partly by design as the story explores the longing for love but the sparks don't fly when the two reconnect. The misunderstandings that drive Sylvie and Robert together and apart are a bit contrived. We also do not need flashbacks to the film's first half sprinkled throughout its final act.
What keeps Sylvie's Love engaging though is the fantastic performances from the entire cast. Thompson is effortlessly likable here. She sells Sylvie's transformation from being told how to act by her mother to a confident career woman. Asomugha is magnetic as Robert. We see his confidence on stage shift into shyness when he starts to fall for Sylvie. The ensemble of character actors also does a fine job, including Lance Reddick as Sylvie's father and Aja Naomin King as Mona, Sylvie's close friend.
Overall, Sylvie's Love is an affecting romance that may not bring anything new narratively but is quietly revolutionary for recasting this type of film for black audiences.