Sylvie’s Love Review: In A Flurry Of Holiday Romances, Tessa Thompson Film Beautifully Revives The Classic Love Story
T’is the season, you guys! The time of year when single people feel horrible, and couples feel romantic, and both types cuddle up to watch romantic movies that are forged from the same formula. What’s the formula? “Casual friend the, phir best friend ho gaye. Achhe friend ho gaye. Phir love start ho gaya.” Just add the spirit of Christmas, lots of snow, and a few socio-economic or geographical obstacles in the middle, and there you have it. There are few films that can take the age-old formula of movie romances and do tweak it to something new. Most choose to flip it. Others fail. And some, like Sylvie’s Love, breathe fresh life into it with their well-crafted and executed elements. Written and directed by Eugene Ashe and starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha, Sylvie’s Love is the summer love story that’ll warm your heart, amidst a flurry of holiday romances.
The film also stars Alano Miller, Lance Reddick, Regé-Jean Page, Aja Naomi King, Jemima Kirke, Tone Bell, and Eva Longoria.
The Plot: Star-crossed lovers. Jazz. New York.
Think summer of 1957, New York City. The air is hot. And cool jazz music is all the rage. Robert, a saxophone player and part of an up-and-coming jazz quartet led by a less-talented leader, meets Sylvie. She’s manning the counter at her father’s record store. But really, she’s just watching television, and dreaming of some day becoming a TV producer. Sylvie is betrothed to Lacy, her fiancé, who’s away at war. But she fills a magnetic pull toward the charming Robert, who’s taken up a job at the store. They bond over their love for music, some dancing, and it’s all coming up roses.
But things render them apart, only to bring them back together in New York, five years later. Robert’s band, the Dicky Brewster Quartet is now successful and popular, recording albums. And Sylvie is TV producer’s assistant, married to Lacy, and has a beautiful little girl, Michelle. As their passionate love rekindles in the instant they see each other, they realise how much they’ve both changed as people and their circumstances and what they want from their lives has changed, and how much still remains the same, like their love for each other.
Sylvie’s Love is a boy-meets-girl archetype. And yet, it is not.
On the surface, Sylvie’s Love is a very simple love story, something straight out of a Nicholas Sparks novel, like The Notebook. It’s got that set formula of boy meets girl, they fall in love, get torn apart by class struggles or ambitions, then find each other again. It’s still a rocky road to the end, and how they walk on it will decide how their story ends, but it’s almost always a happily ever after.
But the beauty of Sylvie’s Love is what it does with this formula. It infuses it with characters that don’t feel one-dimensional or superficial. These characters are grounded in their African American culture, which feels authentic and adds more gravitas to their circumstances and behaviours. This story is also set in a time period that lends more nuances to their romance, making their actions and reactions feel more authentic and organic.
I love the way the idea of love is presented in the film. We’ve often heard the cliché that love means sacrifice. But it is how this sacrifice is portrayed in the film, minus the melodrama of it all, that touches you. This absence of OTT emotions is refreshing and one of the USPs of the film for me. In one scene, Sylvie’s jealous of Robert dancing with a female friend, right after she’s told him they cannot be together. But the scene is so simple, devoid of any unnecessary drama, and the fight so easily resolved, because sometimes, that’s how real life is.
The way Sylvie, Robert and black culture are presented, elevates the film
I loved Sylvie’s character because she is so unlike At one point, Robert says that if there’s one thing that Sylvie knows more about than music, it is television. You get it? Sylvie is a nerd! She can recommend you music but not in a “Oh look what I can do!” kind of a way. It’s a part of her job, to know it. When Sylvie tells Robert that she’s seen every episode of everything that’s on television, it made me laugh because girl, I felt that! We’ve often seen these characters, women who’re addicted to television. But how often have we seen one that turns it into a profession? They clearly know their audience well, having been one themselves.
I admired Sylvie, and consider me a tad disappointed that we didn’t see more of her as a strong, independent, single mother, after she separates from her husband. Because she never, not even for one moment, is a damsel in distress. In fact, I thought the film was brimming with female characters that were confident and self-assured. Whether it’s Sylvie’s mother who clearly calls the shots in their family; her cousin Mona Lisa who is fun and carefree and doesn’t lose her edge even as she works in voter rights education; Robert’s bandleader’s wife Carmen who’s sexy and she owns it; or Sylvie’s producer, Kate, who is all about women supporting women in the workplace.
And then there’s Robert, who is more often than not, a thorough gentleman. He supports Sylvie’s dreams not because he wants to humour the pretty girl, but because he himself is a dreamer and genuinely believes in her. Calling him a feminist would be overkill, but for the most part, Robert is what you’d call an unsuspecting female ally. When he decides to abandon Sylvie because he can’t be a man who can’t provide for his family financially, you’re really mad at him because until then he seemed very unlike the other men. But when you find out the reason why, you see it wasn’t so much for his own ego as it was for Sylvie’s dream. Guys, that’s Aashiqui 2 but much less dramatic and more sensible.
Which is another point in why this love story and the sacrifices its characters make are sold to me. You have the same belief as Sylvie did in Robert’s musical talent and Robert did in Sylvie as a producer. So when they make a choice to do something to uphold the other’s dream, you’re on board too, not dismissing it as overkill.
I love how the black culture is such an integral part of the film, that it’s almost its own character. It peeks through the jazz tunes and clubs, which eventually disperse to make way for Motown, indicating a major shift in American music history to soul/R&B. The writers have made sure to indicate period- and culture-relevant elements, such as Sylvie’s father’s ingenious solution to watching a TV that has a broken sound box!
Ever single component of Sylvie’s Love comes together to set it apart from the others in the genre.
You cannot sell me a love story without a chemistry that is fire. Tessa Thompson as Sylvie and Nnamdi Asomugha as Robert have oodles of it. Their not-a-date date sequence gave me all the tingles, and so did their unexpected reunion five years later. It also helps that both look incredibly good, and I might have a crush on Asomugha because just the way we carries himself was so sexy! But this is Tessa Thompson’s film through and through, and she’s made Sylvie so unlike the female leads we see in most romantic movies who try so hard to be ‘different’ but seem very cardboard cutout.
All elements of the film come together to enhance your experience. You’ve got some excellent production design by Mayne Berke. So everything, from the record store, to Sylvie’s home to the jazz clubs feels authentic and lived in. Phoenix Mellow’s costume design, I guess, gets the credit for making Sylvie, Robert, Carmen and Mona look super hot all the time but not out of period! And of course, the music by Facrice Lecomte, is the perfect accompaniment to Sylvie and Robert’s love story.
Verdict: Sylvie’s Love is a revival of classic romance you didn’t know you needed
Sylvie’s Love is this sweet, simple film with no agenda than to just tells a love story. It’s not trying to be something, or trying to make a statement. It’s that old fashioned movie love that we’ve seen plenty of times on screen. And yet, this one manages to move you, keep you hooked, feel for the characters, and in the end, when they’re finally together, make you ache for a love like that. It is clichéd yes, but it’s the familiarity that breeds comfort, not boredom.
Sylvie’s Love totally deserves all your love!
Sylvie’s Love is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.