I’ll give credit where credit is due: Sylvie’s Love is a gorgeous-looking, gorgeous-sounding movie. It is a fresh twist on classic romantic melodramas, with an extremely attractive black cast set in a glossy, soft-focused Harlem.
Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) and Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) meet cute at a record store. She helps out her father at the store, digging Bill Haley pop music and obsessively watching everything possible on that new-fangled TV. He is a jazz musician that spies the cute girl through the window, walks in off the street, and gets a job stocking records. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, and he is a saxophone player that may one day be as good as Coltrane. They are moon-eyed for each other, but as Sylvie constantly reminds Robert (and herself) she is already engaged to a society-level fellow who is off fighting in Korea. (Check your watch to predict how long Sylvie and Robert can restrain themselves.) But you know something will force these young lovers apart.
Fast forward five years. Sylvie is now working in her dream job as a producer in television and is married with a child. While waiting outside a concert hall, she runs into Robert, in town making a record with his now successful quartet. Sparks fly, and their love cannot be denied (again). But there are several obstacles keeping this couple apart. Her career. His career. Her husband. A secret that she has hidden from Robert all these years….
Filmmakers love to create tributes to the genres that they adore. For instance, Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven was a gorgeous ode to Douglas Sirk melodramas, and was my favorite movie that year. Then you have Quentin Tarantino’s self-congratulatory exploitation movies like Kill Bill Vol. 1, where his notes to the press were nearly as long as the film, just to make sure that film reviewers knew just how clever he was. Then you have movies like Sylvie’s Love, which fall somewhere squarely in between.
Sylvie’s Love certainly has the earnestness of a loyal tribute to classic melodramas, but it ends up having the depth of a Hallmark commercial. After rewatching the commercial-length trailer (which is great), I realized that the whole movie was right there. It is gorgeous and glossy but is missing any sort of emotional depth (in my cold-hearted opinion at least). You can do your laundry, wash dishes, and feed the kids while watching this, and still not miss anything.
But I’ll put out this disclaimer: I’m the first to admit that I’m not the target audience for sweeping romances like this. I’m sure Sylvie’s Love will find its fans, and they will LOVE IT. It has style to spare and it will certainly appeal to those who like to burrow under a blanket on the couch and cozy up to a “will they or won’t they?” sweeping romance. In the meantime, hand me my cat, I’m going to go and watch me some more dystopian sci-fi.