Back to New York of the 1960s era full of groove and the jazzy feelings exuding in the air, Sylvie’s Love recreates the bygone era with precision—not only in look, but also in style. Presented like a Technicolor version of a black-and-white Hollywood melodrama with all the flairs and zeitgeist, this romance however takes a completely different route. It’s vibrant for a reason: to defy the common portrayal of the era’s main theme—a whitewashed pursuit of dream and love—with a story about Black lovers looking out for their own dream and love in a world that hasn’t always been simple for them.
Tessa Thompson portrays the titular character, Sylvie, who has dreamed of becoming a TV personality since she was young. Her lover is Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha), a talented saxophonist in a jazz band. The film begins when the lovers, somehow estranged, reunites in one fateful night; but, their story begins long before that, more specifically, 5 years prior. Robert secures a job at Sylvie’s record store just to get closer to her. In no time, love blossoms in the record store among classy jazzy tunes and some playful melodies. It’s delightful to witness them falling in love to each other, even though Sylvie’s already engaged to another man. As in other star-crossed stories, however, their love sets for a dilemmatic turnover when Robert’s band gets a life-changing opportunity to reside in Paris for 5 years. A wise man once said, “love can wait, but future can’t.: But, for Sylvie and Robert, can their love actually wait? The answer is never an easy one but Sylvie’s Love is tender enough to unravel the answer in love language that we understand.
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For what Sylvie’s Love unravels patiently among its conflict, it’s interesting that writer-director, Eugene Ashe, isn’t exactly describing the titular character’s love interest, but rather, the state of her love. Despite the narrative that sometimes suggest that her love is somewhat meant to be, Sylvie’s love is by all account a realistic one. She moves on because she needs to move on; and she hangs on because there’s something to hang onto. She isn’t confined to Robert’s dream because she eventually grows to learn that life isn’t made solely of dream and that a dream is a luxurious privilege for her people. Given its 60s setting and narrative style that reminiscing pictures from the decade, this story offers something that filmmakers of that era wouldn’t dare to dip into. The romance of Black lovers, especially of the yesteryear, doesn’t work the same way as how White melodrama might turn out to be with the same narrative build-up. Ashe focuses on how a genre from the late stage of Hollywood Golden Age might venture with Black stories; the sentiment exists, but never the focus.
Between jazz, television, dream, and love, the romance might seem like a more grounded version of La La Land; but, the two films can co-exist separately as a love letter from their respective writer-director. Sylvie’s Love however focuses on the realistic look of the dream with Thompson‘s glowing performance resonating with the authentic aesthetic of the depicted. Her chemistry with Asomugha is highly affecting with the latter looks like he’s been love-struck in real life. The story might soar a little too soon and float a little too long in the air, but, when it gets closer to the ground, it knows exactly where it belongs.