Set in Harlem in the 1950s, Eugene Ashe’s story of young summer love plants a sprout in its first act that grows into a wise old tree by the end of its 110 minutes. Starring Tessa Thompson as the titular character, the charming love story follows two people who have dreams beyond romantic love – which makes their own love story that much more beautiful.
The story follows Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), a saxophonist who gets a day job working at a record store simply because he has a crush on the girl behind the counter, Sylvie (Thompson). She whiles away the summer afternoons at the shop, watching every television program she can find, laughing at “I Love Lucy” and dancing around the empty store to Billy Haley and the Comets.
Their easy way with each other is a joy to watch, and the serene first act of the film finds their mutual love of music and art transforming effortlessly into love for each other. But they’re soon reminded of reality: Sylvie is already engaged to a man serving in Korea, and soon Robert and his jazz quartet are offered a high-powered gig in Paris.
Though its early love story is endearing, the narrative is only stronger when it picks up five years later and finds Sylvie as a wife and mother, trying to achieve her dream of working in television when a chance encounter with Robert reminds her who she always wanted to be. It is this element of “Sylvie’s Love” that is exceptional – the idea that its two main characters are grounded in something other than each other, but still want to be together.
The love between Sylvie and Robert feels real – the kind of deep and real love that is not mere infatuation – what writer Kevin Williamson said “goes beyond friendship, beyond lovers.” This is a film about deep and abiding love, which sometimes means sacrifice and separation. It’s especially enjoyable to see Thompson playing a woman of that time period with hopes beyond her husband and house.
“Tessa brought her passion for women’s rights, shown in her character’s transformation from someone who is in an arranged marriage to someone who takes control of her life and makes decisions on her own,” Ashe said of the Gotham Award-winning actor and producer.
The characters are different from typical portrayals of the time period, which in other works can get bogged down in either saddle shoes and jukeboxes or social revolution. Something in between, “Sylvie’s Love” quietly and tastefully gets to the heart of our humanity with charming background characters played by Eva Longoria, Wendi McLendon Covey and Aja Naomi King. Relationships outside the central love story feel real and so much like life: Sylvie’s love for her parents and cousin, Robert’s love for his bandmates and their passions that lie outside a traditional life all make for complex, beautifully-realized people that feel far from fictional.
The story, time period and music only add to the comfort and familiarity these characters find in each other. And it’s a warm place to be – warm as Harlem in the summer of 1957.
Amazon Studios will release “Sylvie’s Love” on Prime Video Dec. 23.