SYLVIE’S LOVE (2020)

December 22, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. For those who enjoy an old fashioned Hollywood romance, with set design and costumes taking priority over the intricacies of a story, then writer-director Eugene Ashe has the cure for what ails you. In contrast to the numerous films this year addressing topics of socially-conscious issues, this is an unapologetic, soapy, melodrama with beautiful actors and some cool jazz.

Tessa Thompson (CREED, 2015; AVENGERS: ENDGAME, 2019) stars as Sylvie, a young woman working in her daddy’s (Lance Reddick) Harlem record store while her fiancé is off fighting in the war. Her co-star is Nnamdi Asomugha (a 10 year NFL career, mostly with the Raiders) as Robert, a saxophone player in the Dickie Brewster Quartet. They have their ‘meet-cute’ moment, and despite the fiancé and Sylvie’s career aspirations of being a TV producer, they fall in love. The chemistry between Sylvie and Robert works because Ms. Thompson can light up the screen with her smile.

Director Ashe starts the movie in 1962 as Sylvie and Robert bump into each other by mere chance. It’s then that we flashback 5 years to their first meeting in the record shop. It doesn’t take long to establish that Sylvie is an expert on music and television, and has an independent streak that would be considered unusual for the era. As the two fall in love and appear well-matched, Robert’s group lands a prestigious gig in Paris. Just like that, the relationship is over.

Falling in and out of love over many years isn’t the right description for what happens to Sylvie and Robert. No, they are always in love (whether together or apart) … it’s just that life happens, and timing can be cruel in such matters. Additional supporting performances include Jemima Kirke as the Countess and Robert’s agent, a character based on Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter; Wendi McLendon-Covey as Lucy, a TV actor on a cooking show; Erica Gimpel as Sylvie’s appearances-obsessed mother; Eva Longoria as Carmen, replete with a New Year’s Eve song and dance routine; John Magaro as a music producer; and Alamo Miller as Lacy, Sylvie’s fiancé and husband. Despite her limited screen time, Aja Naomi King is a standout as Sylvie’s friend and party-girl-turned Civil Rights Activist. Her character is one of the few that gives any indication of what’s happening socially in the country at that time.

It’s a film that fully embraces the melodrama – a predictable love story, contrived to the point that Sylvie keeps a secret so personal that we would ordinarily find her despicable; yet in this film, her actions are presented as compassionate. Mr. Ashe’s film is a soap opera that looks fantastic, while glossing over the real challenges faced by blacks in the era. It’s truly a throwback in style, era, and substance. The people are beautiful. The cars are shiny. The music is hypnotic. Production design by Mayne Berke and Costumes by Phoenix Mellow add to the elegance presented by Ms. Thompson and Mr. Asomugha. You surely know if this is your type of movie. See you later alligator.

Available on Amazon Prime December 23, 2020

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OVERBOARD (2018)

May 4, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s interesting that movies and TV sitcoms are fair game when it comes to remakes. We don’t find authors re-writing Hemingway or Fitzgerald. A painter who copies Picasso is labeled a forger. Even when a pianist interprets a Chopin piece, it’s still clearly Chopin. Ahh, but movie remakes are to be accepted as new art – a shiny new creation. Of course, any movie lover worth their salt (is that still an acceptable phrase?) will compare new to old – remake to original. And since first impressions aren’t allowed a do-over, we typically find the remake somewhat lacking.

Director Rob Greenberg and co-writer Bob Fisher simply flip the 1987 original concept from writer Leslie Dixon, where she had Goldie Hawn as the rich heiress and Kurt Russell as the blue collar opportunist. This gender-switch differs from what typically makes headlines these days, and is meant to add a contemporary feel to the story. Anna Faris takes on the role of Kate, a single mom working multiple jobs as she raises 3 daughters while also prepping for the Nursing exam. Mexican movie star Eugenio Derbez (INSTRUCTIONS NOT INCLUDED) may be best known in the U.S. for introducing COCO at this year’s Oscars ceremony, and here he plays Leonardo, a do-nothing playboy heir to a corporate empire. Leo’s typical day is spent on his $60 million birthday yacht enjoying the company of supermodels while mostly ignoring the crew, except when he needs mango or papaya.

Act 1 is the set up where we acknowledge that Leo is a spoiled brat representing the evil one-percenters, and Kate is the good-hearted working class hero we are supposed to root for. Their initial confrontations are poorly handled and soon both have taken the film’s title to heart – she after being pushed by him, and he after conking his head and winding up washed ashore with amnesia. The gist of the story is that Kate conspires to have the concussed Leo act as her husband until he pays her back for her work and she can complete her nursing studies.

The only real interesting things to discuss here are the choices of the filmmakers. Mr. Greenberg is known mostly for TV sitcoms, and it’s quite obvious with how the comedic scenes play out. Admiration and respect go out for allowing much of the film to be bi-lingual (yes, with subtitles), and for taking a risk on the crossover appeal of Mr. Derbez as a leading man. However, what doesn’t work is pretty much everything else. We never buy Faris as a working class mom cold-hearted enough to pull off this scheme. Plus, she is simply not a very good actress and has poor comedic timing throughout the movie. Likeable? Yes. Effective in the role? No.  There is also a weak attempt to comment on the working conditions of manual laborers, and it just falls flat.

Thank goodness for the supporting cast. John Hannah as Colin, the chief of the crew, is far too talented for this production, and shines in his too-few scenes. Eva Longoria plays Kate’s friend Theresa, and her relationship with husband Bobby (a terrific Mel Rodriguez) would have made a far superior movie to what is presented here. There is also a brilliant use of Mexican TV soap operas contrasted with the Norwegian yacht crew watching Leo on the closed-circuit system. Despite these sparks of hope, the film mostly lacks the charm of Kurt and Goldie, although judging from the audience response, many will disagree.

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