‘Sylvie’s Love’ Review: Lovely Romance With First-Rate Acting
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
In “Sylvie’s Love,” Sylvie Parker (Tessa Thompson) and Robert Halloway (Nnamdi Asomugha) meet at her father’s record store in Harlem, circa 1957, and begin an on-again, off-again romance over the ensuing years.
Sylvie is an aspiring TV producer; Robert is a jazz saxophonist, and writer-director Eugene Ashe crafts their story into an elegant romance with a painstakingly elaborate depiction of midcentury Manhattan that will thrill history buffs.
All that would be enough, but the film also offers a substantial examination of the challenges facing a Black woman aiming to succeed in a white male-dominated industry during the period, while balancing social expectations for being a mother and a wife.
This is a polished drama set amid the twinkling lights of the Theater District and on New York City rooftops during the summertime, with the sounds of the subway rumbling in the distance.
It’s a film made for what was surely a modest budget that benefits from lavish production values, including sweeping camerawork that further provides an impeccable sense of the time and the place, while trading in quiet moments that are restrained yet passionate.
In other words, anyone seeking out a high-quality, old-fashioned romance could not do better than “Sylvie’s Love.” Even if the contours of the story feel familiar, it is rare to encounter them shaped and conveyed with such a keen sense of how they should be told to achieve a maximum emotional impact.
It starts, of course, with a top-notch cast that also includes supporting veterans ranging from Aja Naomi King to Lance Reddick and Eva Longoria.
Tessa Thompson again establishes her bona fides as a charismatic star, in a leading role that requires her to rely heavily upon the power of drawing on her character’s inner strength. She carries the picture here with the confidence she infuses in Sylvie, a woman who is unafraid to defy the demands placed upon her.
Thompson’s Sylvie is resolute in her drive to build the life that she wants for herself, both in terms of her relationship with Robert and in the steps that she takes to break into a TV industry that does not exactly welcome her. And she doesn’t rely on long monologues or impassioned outbursts to achieve it; there’s a quietness to the character that makes her all-the-more affecting.
Asomugha, who has some acting credits under his belt but is still best known as a longtime NFL player, stands as a revelation here. He brings a measure of quiet dignity to Robert, who is nearly always seen in a perfectly manicured suit and tie, that is complicated by a hint of self-disgust. This only grows louder as his professional aspirations are halted.
The characters are so thoughtfully fleshed out by the actors and Ashe’s screenplay that it becomes easy to be swept up in their romance and to genuinely hope that they find their way toward each other for good, even as obstacles continually emerge.
“Sylvie’s Love” works best because it establishes Sylvie and Robert as interesting people worthy of investment, rather than tools in a genre toolbox. They know what they want, and know how to work toward it, and watching them seize control of their destinies even as social forces push back is just as compelling as the romantic sparks between them.
This is a lovely romance with great production values, first-rate acting and a strong sense of place.