director/writer: Eugene Ashe; cinematographer: Declan Quinn; editor: Dana Congdon; music: Fabrice Lecomte; cast: Nina Ashe (Evelyn), Tessa Thompson (Sylvie), Nnamdi Asomugha (Robert Halloway), Lance Reddick (Herbert ), Eva Longoria (Carmen), Aja Naomi King (Mona), Jemima Kirke (Countess), Tone Bell (Dickie Brewster), Rege-Jean Page (Dr. Parker), Alano Miller (Lacy), Ryan Michelle Bathe (Kate), Wendi McLendon-Covey (Lucy), Erica Gimpel (Eunice), Raquel Horsford (Connie), Tucker Smallwood (Dr. Parker); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Nnamdi Asomugha, Gabrielle Glore, Jonathan T Baker, Eugene Ashe, Matthew Thurm; iAm21 Entertainment; 2020)
“Does a really fine job handling the black experience during an era before the civil rights movement blossomed.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The former recording artist turned director, Eugene Ashe (“Homecoming”), helms this glossy (shot on luscious 16mm) period film that reminds one it could be a black version of a Douglas Sirk drama from the 1950s and 1960s. It’s set in Harlem in the summer of 1957. The tame old-fashioned melodrama may be referred to as a “women’s picture” from Hollywood’s Golden Era, and is played out with a background jazz riff. It explores the black romantic experience among its middle-class young adults.
Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) is the sweet daughter of a Harlem record shop owner (Lance Reddick), a former musician. She aspires to have a career producing shows, and has a fiance serving in the military in the Korean war. Things suddenly change when one day a saxophonist customer named Bobby (Nnamdi Asomugha, a former NFL player) needs her help to find the latest Thelonious Monk record, and the two make an immediate love connection. He’s soon hired as a store clerk and a cautious romance taking place over six years has them falling in and out of love. But he becomes the one who got away.
Chemistry between the leads is terrific. Thompson gives an effortless performance that’s matched by Asomugha’s intensity.
The film played at Sundance, but though receiving modest praise has been so far overlooked. Though there are too many contrivances in the third act, it’s an appealing film that’s well-constructed (capturing the nostalgia, look and feel of that period) as it does a really fine job handling the black experience during an era before the civil rights movement blossomed. It tells its plain story without for the most part using race as an issue, but instead deals with circumstances that can challenge any couple (such as infidelity and pregnancy issues).
REVIEWED ON 2/11/2020 GRADE: B