Sylvie’s Love (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A little old-fashioned romance set in Harlem

“Sylvie’s Love”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last week, is a little old-fashioned romance tale which is more charming and engaging than you may think. Mainly set in New York City during the 1950-60s, the movie presents your average tale of two star-crossed lovers, but it engages us with its good mood and details, and then it touches us via the genuine sense of love felt from its two main characters.

After the prologue scene which shows an accident reunion between a young married African woman named Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson) and her ex-lover Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha), the movie moves back to when they happened to come across each other for the first time in 1957. As a struggling jazz musician in Harlem at that time, Robert had been looking for any job to earn some money, and he happened to notice a sign in front of a small local record shop, and that was how he came to meet Sylvie, who was taking care of the shop during her father’s temporary absence.

While she has aspired to be a TV producer someday as frequently watching TV shows, Sylvie also knows a lot about jazz music thanks to her father, who was once a promising jazz musician but chose to give up his music career for supporting his family. As she and Robert enthusiastically exchange their common knowledge on jazz music, their mutual attraction is palpable to us, and that is also apparent to her father, who instantly hires Robert although he was actually reluctant to hire anyone before that.

Robert later invites Sylvie to a place where he and his colleagues have played, and his considerable potential as a jazz musician is evident to not only her but also others watching his performance at the spot. As a matter of fact, there is a rich Caucasian woman who has been watching his performance for a while, and, as an avid jazz enthusiast, she is quite willing to help him and his colleagues advance more in their music career.

When this unexpected backer of his later arranges a new contract with some famous jazz club in Paris, Robert is certainly excited, and he expects Sylvie to go along with him, but there is one problem. As Sylvie told him from the beginning, she has a fiancé who will return once he finishes his military service in South Korea, and her mother fully expects her to marry her fiancé, who is incidentally quite an ideal suitor as the son of a rich and respectable family.

Eventually, Sylvie decides not to leave along with Robert, so they bid farewell shortly before his eventual departure, but she subsequently finds herself becoming pregnant with his child. Fortunately, her fiancé still loves her despite that, and we later see her alternating between her housework and a menial job in some big TV broadcasting company five years later.

When she happens to get a chance for participating in the production of one popular TV show, Sylvie is naturally delighted, but that puts some strain on her relationship with her husband, who wants her to be happy but is usually occupied with his company work. At one point, he expects her to prepare a dinner for not only them but also his Caucasian boss and the boss’ wife, but she is unfortunately busy with her new job right now, and we get a little laugh when she luckily manages to find a way to solve this problem at once.

However, Sylvie is not so happy with the current status of her life, and that is when she come across Robert again. After performing along with his colleagues in Paris, Robert has been a bit more famous than before, and Sylvie is certainly glad to see how things have been going well for him during last several years. Although they are supposed to spend a brief time together just for a little talk, Sylvie soon finds herself swept by the rekindled passion inside her, and so does Robert, who does not say no when she later appears in front of his hotel room.

As the screenplay by director/writer/co-producer Eugene Ashe leisurely proceeds from one expected narrative point from another, the movie keeps holding our attention via its several strong elements. Its bright and lovely period background and details are authentic enough to evoke those old American classic movies in the 1950-60s, and this aspect is further accentuated by the cinematography by Declan Quinn, who deliberately imbued the screen with grainy texture as shooting the movie on 16mm film.

Above all, the movie depends a lot on the good chemistry between its two lead performers. Tessa Thompson, who has steadily advanced since her breakout supporting turn in “Dear White People” (2014), gives a likable performance as a young woman who becomes more confident and independent via her bumpy emotional journey, and she and Nnamdi Asomugha, who also participated in the production of the movie, click well together during their several key scenes in the film. They are also supported well by a number of good supporting characters around him, and Lance Reddick, Ryan Michelle Bathe. Aja Naomi King, and Eva Longoria bring some colorful personality to their respective roles.

On the whole, “Sylvie’s Love” may not be that fresh in terms of story and characters, but its earnest storytelling mostly works thanks to Ashe’s competent direction as well as the solid efforts from its main cast members. Yes, it is quite typical in many aspects, but it is surely a suitable product to warm you a bit during these cold winter days.

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