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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Eugene Ashe
prd Nnamdi Asomugha, Gabrielle Glore, Jonathan T Baker, Eugene Ashe, Matthew Thurm
with Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Aja Naomi King, Jemima Kirke, Tone Bell, Alano Miller, Eva Longoria, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Lance Reddick, Erica Gimpel, Rege-Jean Page, Ryan Michelle Bathe
release US/UK 23.Dec.20
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
In the style of a vintage early 1960s melodrama, this film's smooth, jazzy tone makes it very easy to watch. Writer-director Eugene Ashe's approach is similar to Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, recounting a romance that would never have been told on-screen back in the day. Although this overstretched narrative isn't quite as adventurous, with its subtle obstacles and gentle pacing. But the actors create engaging characters.
In 1957 New York, Sylvie (Thompson) is working in her father's (Reddick) record shop when Robert (Asomugha) applies for a job. But Sylvie needs to hide the strong spark between them, because her fiance Lacy (Miller) is serving in Korea. At night, Robert plays sax in a jazz quartet patronised by Genie (Kirke). And as he heads to Paris for a gig, Sylvie conceals her pregnancy. Five years later, Sylvie is married and working her dream job as a TV producer when she runs into Robert in the street. And she still can't resist him.
The brightly intelligent Sylvie is marginalised by her culture, but challenges attitudes alongside her best pal Mona (King). Each of Sylvie's various hurdles, relating to her gender, class and race, seems somewhat unthreatening within the film's oddly timid tone. Of course the open-minded Sylvie is on a collision course with the firmly sexist Lacy. And she also has that fatherhood bombshell to drop on Robert. But even with these potentially huge issues, the conflicts in this story aren't particularly thorny.
Thankfully, performances are relaxed and earthy, remaining on an even keel even when things start to become intense. Thompson gives Sylvie a sharp intellect that connects with the people around her, so her interaction with Asomugha's soft-spoken Robert simmers with the strong chemistry between them. Both actors infuse the screen with vivid feelings that carry a strong emotional kick. Surrounding characters add textures throughout the film, even as their stories and inter-relationships are left off the screen entirely.
Filmmaker Ashe sets a tone that skilfully echoes the period, but with such the long running time the story feels sentimental and underpowered. There are a wide range of plot points that add texture to the narrative, commenting on several themes of the day that still resonate now. But while biggest barrier to happiness here is the male ego, the script never grapples with this. It's a bold move to have this play out without big dramatic fireworks, so the darkly emotional confrontations at least offer something to hold onto.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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