A Jazzman’s Blues (2022) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Tyler Perry comes to Netflix

Here is my inconsequential confession: I did not watch any film directed by Tyler Perry during last two decades. Sure, like many of you, I do know that he has made a bunch of notable films since his first commercial hit film “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” (2005), but many of his movies failed to draw my attention more because, as far as I gathered from the reviews on his movies, I am not exactly one of the target audiences of his films and, above all, they do not particularly look like good movies worthwhile to watch.

Anyway, my trivial personal opinion on Perry has been improved a bit since I enjoyed his delightfully no-nonsense supporting role in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014), and now he becomes more respectable especially after receiving the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy Awards. It is undeniable that he is a major Hollywood filmmaker you cannot possibly ignore, and that is why it is not so surprising that he recently made “A Jazzman’s Blues” for Netflix, which was incidentally released in last week.

Because I have no experience with Perry’s films at all, I cannot tell you whether “A Jazzman’s Blues” is better than his previous works, but I can tell you instead that the movie is a fairly competent Netflix product on the whole. Although the screenplay, which Tyler actually wrote more than 25 years ago, is rather uneven due to many reasons including contrived narrative and blatant melodramatic tactics, the movie has some heart on its sleeve at least, and it certainly does not lack mood and spirit as your average Southern racial melodrama.

After the opening part set in a rural town of Georgia in the late 1980s, the movie immediately goes back to around 40 years ago, and we are introduced to a rather problematic African American family. Hattie Mae (Amirah Vann), a strong-willed woman who also has a considerable singing talent, is proud of her younger son Bayou (Joshua Boone) because he happens to be a very good singer just like his mother, but her musician husband usually bullies Bayou without showing any care or affection for a certain reason revealed later in the story. As a matter of fact, her husband has more expectation on their older son Willie Earl (Austin Scott), who has some potential as a trumpet player as shown from the scene where he confidently performs a bit in front of neighbors.

Anyway, Bayou does not care this much even when his father eventually leaves for Chicago along with Willie Earl, because his heart has been occupied with a young pretty girl named by Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer). As they spend more time together, their mutual attraction becomes more evident to each other, and Bayou, who comes to learn how to read and write thanks to her encouragement, begins to consider marrying her someday.

Of course, like many star-crossed lovers, Bayou and Leanne soon find themselves getting separated from each other against their will. During next several years, they try to contact with each other while never ceasing to love each other, but they are blocked by a number of obstacles including Leanne’s self-serving mother, who once left her when Leanne was young but now returns with some plan for her and her daughter’s future.

It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Bayou and Leanne come across each other at last by coincidence, but I will not go into details on a very tricky racial circumstance surrounding them, though you can quickly guess right from when you notice Leanne’s certain features. Now she should be very careful and discreet, but Leanne still cannot help but drawn to Bayou, and Bayou also cannot resist her either even though he is well aware of the big risks she is taking everyday.

And then the movie takes a left turn when Bayou has no choice but to leave his hometown as quickly as possible via Willie Earl, who happens to return along with his Jewish manager Ira (Ryan Eggold). At first, Bayou is just an accidental companion to Willie Earl and Ira, but Ira already saw considerable potential from Bayou, and, what do you know, Bayou finds himself becoming a big star blues singer not long after arriving in Chicago.

Nevertheless, Bayou still cannot forget Leanne in addition to being more concerned about his mother’s welfare, and that is the point where the story becomes more blatant and predictable than before. What inevitably happens during the expected finale is indeed tragic to say the least, but it does not feel as impactful as intended mainly because many of its main characters remain to be broad stereotypes merely functioning as plot elements. At least, the main cast members including Joshua Boone, Amira Vann, Solea Pfeiffer, Austin Scott, Ryan Eggold, and Milauna Jemai Jackson try their best with materials given to them, and Boone generates enough romantic heat with Pfeiffer in addition to being convincing in his several performance scenes in the film.

In conclusion, “A Jazzman’s Blues” is not a waste of time at all, and I also enjoyed its good several technical aspects including Brett Pawlak’s cinematography and Aaron Zigman’s score (The songs in the film are arranged by Terence Blanchard, by the way), but Perry could polish his story and characters more for some improvement. He is surely sincere about his story and its main subjects, but he still needs to get better, and, considering how competent he is as a filmmaker at present, I am sure that he will get to that higher level soon.

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