In a year full of fear, uncertainty, and tragedy, romantics have had little to celebrate, and so the timeless love story depicted in Sylvie’s Love, (released December 23) rounded out the year with a hopefulness 2020 rarely delivered.
Minor spoilers ahead!
The year is 1957, and newly-engaged Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) is spending the summer working in her father’s record store, where she meets new hire and aspiring Jazz saxophonist Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha). What follows is a classic love story that proves itself stronger than distance and time, as the right romance meets over and over in search of its right time.
Five years after a summer romance with Robert Halloway, the massively talented saxophonist for the Dickie Brewster Band, Sylvie is living with her affluent husband Lacy Parker (Alano Miller) and her young daughter while Robert has been traveling and performing. She takes an assistant job with a Black female producer (unheard of at the time, and Sylvie’s ultimate goal) for the Lucy Wolper cooking show, and it’s when Sylvie gives this news to her husband that the audience realizes Lacy cares much more for his career and status than he does his wife or her aspirations.
Sylvie is waiting at the theater one evening for her cousin Mona to arrive for a show when she happens to run into Robert again, and she invites him to join her in Mona’s place when it becomes clear she won’t make it. The reunion reignites feelings between the two of them, and from there the audience is along for the ride as Robert and Sylvie work to sort out their feelings toward one another, their families, and their futures- both together and apart.
The film is a simple love story reminiscent of stories like The Notebook released in 2004. Sylvie and Robert are rarely actually together in the film, however; time and circumstance keep them away from each other, and the audience waits with bated breath to see them find one another over and over. While the film ultimately has a happy ending that was cliché and sappy and therefore everything one could want in a romance, it does feel like it ran about 20 minutes too long, with Sylvie and Robert’s final parting lacking the reasoning to properly substantiate the extra time spent on it. The penultimate reunion felt like a much more natural stopping point and gave the audience the impression already that Robert and Sylvie’s relationship was strong enough to withstand whatever obstacles stood in their way, and I don’t think there was a need to prove that again, especially at the risk of invalidating Robert’s character growth. That said, the writing is beautifully simplistic in the final stretch and slowly sets the mood, pulling the audience into Robert’s feelings of shame and deprecation, the betrayal and Sylvie’s heartbreak, and their subsequent elation once they decide their happiness lies more in each other than in their careers.
Sylvie’s Love could’ve easily used the natural 50s and 60s era strife and horrors centered around the Civil Rights Movement to set the tone of the film, as has often been done in the past, but instead veered delightfully off the well-beaten path to something beautiful and hopeful. Of course we all watched Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams find their way back to one another after so many years apart in The Notebook, defying blatantly differing paths to be together again…and so while this is a film you may have seen before in theory, and potentially in story, finally seeing a simple period romance portrayed by a largely POC cast is not the same movie you’ve seen in reality. But it is a small step in the right direction.
Tessa Thompson absolutely shines, as she always does. To say that I fell in love with Sylvie alongside Robert would be an understatement, and as anyone following Thompson’s work over the years can attest, she has a way of drawing an audience into her characters so completely it’s difficult to ascertain where the character ends and the actress begins. Sylvie is independent, strong, stubborn, hard-working, resilient, and as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside, and Thompson is one of the best actresses in Hollywood right now to embody all of these qualities together.
Nnamdi Asomugha- who played in the NFL until his retirement in 2013- may not have been quite as enthralling as his more experienced female counterpart, but he was clearly dedicated to the role of Robert Halloway (he even learned to play the saxophone), and it shows in his performance. All of the songs are incredible, whether they be old hits of the era or written for the Dickie Brewster Quartet, and they do a great job of setting the tone in the film alongside impeccable set design and excellent costuming.
Sylvie’s Love is the second feature directed and written by Eugene Ashe, after Homecoming in 2012. Adding to Ashe’s writing and direction, the main cast are also largely POC, featuring Aja Naomi King as Mona, Tone Bell as Dickie Brewster, Rege-Jean Page as Chico Sweetney, Erica Gimpel as Sylvie’s mother Eunice, Eva Longoria as Carmen, and many more. Seeing films like this gives me hope for more internally produced content for POC that allows for love and regularity instead of the all-too-often hate and strife. I easily give this film an Incluvie rating of 5, and a regular movie rating of 4.
Trust me when I say this film makes you feel like all you’ll ever need in life is Sylvie’s Love; and to be frank, I, too, would do whatever it took to be with Tessa Thompson. While you’re quarantining anyway, curl up with a blanket and large mug of hot chocolate and give this wonderful palate cleanser a watch one night.
You can watch Sylvie’s Love now on Prime Video.