I saw this movie at Twin Cities Film Fest back in October and it’s one of the few films I had the privilege of seeing on the big screen. It’s also one of the rare romantic dramas I get to see this year. I’d say the world could use more love stories, and this one is set to lovely jazz music in 1950s Harlem.
The movie opens outside a Manhattan theater as Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson) sees her former lover Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha) outside a concert. It seems time has passed since they’ve seen each other, but clearly the flames haven’t clearly burned out. The movie then cut to a flashback when Sylvie was working on her father’s (Lance Reddick) record store where the two lovers have their meet cute.
At the time, Robert was a young musician with equal talent and ambition who happened to be looking for a part time gig. Sylvie on the other hand, loved watching TV, which seemed random at first, but as it turns out it’s a harbinger for her TV career that’s revealed later in the movie. Sylvie’s also been betrothed to a man with excellent prospects who’s currently away overseas. Despite such an obstacle, including the disapproval of her etiquette-teacher mother (Erica Gimpel), Sylvie and Robert fall breathlessly in love.
From the moment they meet, there’s such a playful, sweet chemistry between the two leads that we instantly want them to be together. Writer/director Eugene Ashe set up the romance in a dreamy fashion… a slow dance on a street corner beneath the moonlight, even the streets and its surrounding sparkle as if to enhance the mood. It certainly helps that both Thompson and Asomugha are both incredibly gorgeous and look fabulous in retro fashions designed by Phoenix Mellow.
But as the Bard said the course of true love never did run smooth, though labeling Sylvie and Robert as star-crossed lovers might be a bit strong. Each have certain ambitions that keep them apart… Robert goes away to Paris for a steady gig with his band, and Sylvie gets a producing job at a cooking show. One thing I notice is that social issues of the time, such Civil Rights and Women’s movements, are not really a factor in the story, but only mentioned briefly in passing. I suppose that is a deliberate choice on the filmmaker’s part, though perhaps it’s a missed opportunity.
While I was invested in the characters’ journey initially, by the film’s halfway point, it kind of lost its luster. I just don’t feel like there’s enough substance in either Sylvie nor Robert to really get caught up in their lives. The script also seems to sidestep characters/plot that no longer serves its narrative. Sylvie’s mother suddenly disappears when she seemed like an obstacle in the beginning. The breakdown of Sylvie’s marriage with Lacy (Alano Miller) feels rather convenient instead of being an important part that happens in Sylvie’s life. SPOILER ALERT! (highlight to read) – we later learn that Sylvie’s daughter turns out to be Robert’s, but even the reveal and subsequent reunion between father + daughter doesn’t have the same emotional weight as one would expect.
In terms of performance though, I love Tessa Thompson here as a romantic lead… so refreshing after seeing her kick ass in the MCU movies. She’s obviously a strong woman, but nice to see her inner strength being the focus here. This is the first time I saw Nnamdi Asomugha but I’m really impressed with him. Nice to see a new proper romantic leading man, and this film offers us not one but two fresh, talented and extremely handsome black actors who I’d love to see more of. The other one is Regé-Jean Page who plays Robert’s best friend and fellow band member Chico. His supporting role is pretty small here but he’s now the star of Netflix’s juicy period drama series Bridgerton and I can’t wait to see more of him on TV AND films. I also quite like Aja Naomi King as Sylvie’s bestie Mona, who formed a fun, playful couple with Page.
In the end, I find this film resplendent and swoon-worthy, but there’s something wanting. As I mentioned above, it doesn’t quite have the depth I was expecting. I suppose not every drama has to have such high stakes to make us care, but I think better character development would make us more invested in their story. That said, there are still plenty to recommend in Sylvie’s Love. DP Declan Quinn shot this beautifully and the music by Fabrice Lecomte sounds lovely. Given that Ashe is a musician himself, naturally the jazzy music is one of the best parts of this movie. I’m glad this movie is on Amazon Prime, I should like to revisit this one again one day.
Have you seen SYLVIE’S LOVE? Well, what did you think?