Review: An old-fashioned romance in Amazon Prime’s ‘Sylvie’s Love’

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  • Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha shine in this gorgeous period piece set in 1950s Harlem, New York City
  • Directed by Eugene Ashe, the film is an ode to classic melodramas and features a stand-out soundtrack
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Nnamdi Asomugha, left, and Tessa Thompson appear in a scene from "Sylvie's Love." Photo: Amazon Studios via AP

It’s summertime in Harlem in 1957 when we get to know the beautiful souls at the centre of Amazon Prime’s new release, Sylvie’s Love.

Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) works at the register of her father’s record store but dreams of a job in television. Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) is a struggling saxophonist who sees her, and a help wanted sign, through the store window. Their attraction is immediate, but it’s not the only factor at play here. Anyone who’s ever seen a romantic drama knows that life will continue getting in the way of Sylvie and Robert’s love for the half decade we know them.

Written and directed by Eugene Ashe, Sylvie’s Love is an ode to classic melodramas, with scenic set design, gorgeous costumes and a soundtrack of mid-century hits. Its story feels familiar, but it’s also one that we haven’t seen nearly enough of: The simple fact of our protagonists’ skin colour makes this film radical and noteworthy.

While it doesn’t have the sweeping art and emotional weight of If Beale Street Could Talk, Sylvie’s Love has many charms. Thompson, for one, is wonderful as Sylvie, who is not your average romantic protagonist, especially for the time. Sylvie is naïve but also worldly, prim but also passionate and the world around her is bright and exciting and full of possibilities, even if her father (Lance Reddick) thinks her dream of working in television is far-fetched.

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But Sylvie, we soon discover, is engaged. Her fiance, a businessman from a wealthy family, is away in Korea and she’s simply biding her time before he comes back. The introduction of Robert, thus, is more than a little disruptive to these well-laid plans. Still, they begin to bond over music and shared and different passions. Their summer of new love comes to an abrupt halt though when her mother (Erica Gimpel) discovers what’s going on and Robert finds out his band has an opportunity to go to Paris. Sylvie, for her own reasons, does not accept his invitation to join.

Five years later they meet again, outside a theatre where she’s found herself without a date for the evening and an extra ticket. Time and distance haven’t lessened their connection and the whole thing starts anew. Now, though, Sylvie is married and has a young daughter. She’s also recently gotten her dream job, as an assistant to the producer (Ryan Michelle Bathe) of a television cooking show.

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The pace moves at a leisurely crawl, especially after the two lovers separate the first time. Thompson and Asomugha have undeniable chemistry and are best when in each other’s company on screen, but there’s a bit too much going on around them.

Asomugha has a great screen presence and could really break out with the right role. “Sylvie’s Love,” which he also produced, isn’t quite that, but it is a solid performance in this undeniably pleasant and soulful film.

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