By Nadia Dalimonte
Tessa Thompson in Sylvie's Love (2020)
Writer-director Eugene Ashe stimulates love at first sight in Sylvie’s Love, a gorgeous sweeping romance that exudes charm in every frame. An incredibly talented cast, featuring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha in the two lead roles, soar at bringing a heartfelt narrative onto the screen with compelling fluency. Lush costumes and detailed cinematography, paired with dreamy music, depict a glamorous 50s/60s setting in Harlem. With passion, a rekindled love story is told through changing times and newfound professional heights.
The story begins with a chance meeting outside a theater. As Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) searches for a no-show guest, a familiar face passes by. Emotions rush in as her eyes meet Robert’s (Nnamdi Asomugha). The history they share sizzles back in time to one hot summer day five years earlier. Robert, an aspiring saxophonist playing for a jazz quartet, notices Sylvie through the window of her father’s record store. Aspirations of becoming a TV producer linger in her thoughts as she spends the summer indoors, waiting for her fiancé to return home. Her eyes are glued to the television as her future love walks through the door holding a Help Wanted sign. As the two slowly bond through music, her father takes notice and hires him on the spot. With the bloom of an unexpected romance, Sylvie finds herself at a crossroads between her fiancé and a new love that sparks fluttering emotions. Then life happens; Robert gets an exciting opportunity in Paris, and their paths diverge. But their spark never wavers as the years go by.
Eugene Ashe beautifully establishes the blossoming connection between both characters, while also exploring Sylvie’s hesitations about her overwhelming feelings for Robert. They fall deeply into each other’s hearts…perhaps too soon, as the ‘Fools Fall In Love’ melody goes. Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha share such winning chemistry full of longing, meaningful moments left unshared, and the underlying fear of losing each other. Thompson plays a more fleshed out character, particularly in the second half of the film which sees a rise in Sylvie’s producing career and explores the aftermath of success in her family household. When her path crosses Robert’s again, harking back to the opening scene, their chance meeting takes on a whole new intriguing life. Just as Sylvie retreats from Robert when his career takes off in the first half of the film, he feels a similar urge not to hold her back when she achieves success in the second half.
Tessa Thompson has fantastic versatility. Her stunning work in films such as Little Woods, Creed, and Sorry to Bother You is now joined by another wonderful performance in Sylvie’s Love. Her screen presence is absolutely magnetic from start to finish, spanning a complex whirlwind of emotions as Sylvie’s devotions to her personal and career ambitions continue to rise. The film plays out as a grand love story at its core, but there are also interesting portrayals about the rollercoaster of pursuing career aspirations and how this clashes with expectations of creating a family. Sylvie’s fiancé Lacy (Alano Miller) in particular gets caught up in loving his antiquated idea of her. The second half of the film also sees strong dynamics within the television production industry. Sylvie lands the job of assistant to Kate (Ryan Michelle Bathe), the head producer of a 60s cooking show that stars TV personality Lucy (Wendi McLendon-Covey). During the job interview, much to Sylvie’s pleasant surprise, she discovers Kate is in fact the producer. It’s both a wonderful and sad scene touching on long overdue necessary industry shifts.
Sylvie's Love is a gorgeous romance that resonates beyond the blossoming love story at its core. The film is full of so much joy, which is also essential for Black representation on screen. The narrative portrays interesting explorations of career ambitions, self-love, and different relationship dynamics. Sylvie’s closest friend Mona (Aja Naomi King) has a small but recurring role throughout the story, and adds to a strong portrayal of friendship. Ashe’s direction and writing also infuse a passion for music that shines through the characters. Robert in particular is holding onto his love for jazz as its popularity starts to change from the late 50s to the 60s. An exquisite soundtrack gives so much emotional weight to certain scenes and the songs that accompany them. Musically, visually, and story-wise, this is a beautiful film. Eugene Ashe does a wonderful job of balancing all these elements together and bringing focus onto many of Sylvie’s loves in this story.