Dir. Eugene Ashe. 114 minutes.
After a brief but intense summer romance, Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), an up-and-coming saxophonist, and Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), a housewife-to-be with dreams of a career in television, go their separate ways. Much later, they meet again and find that their connection has survived the years.
“Sylvie’s Love” sets an example of retro filmmaking more by removing contemporary stylistic touches than by including attention-grabbing nostalgic references. Its storytelling, also, is defined by what it does not include: there are no clever twists, no “important” social themes with which the viewer is browbeaten, no award-grabbing scenes with characters sobbing and screaming at one another while the camera hovers inches from their faces. In 2021, to encounter a movie so devoid of irony, clever trickery or ideological missionarism is a welcome surprise.
With a meticulously assembled soundtrack that brings together everything from bebop to doo-wop, “Sylvie’s Love” is unapologetically in love with the ’50s. The existence of greater racism and misogyny is acknowledged insofar as it’s relevant to the story, but we’re also reminded that day-to-day life was once less hurried and less entangled — that it need not be a sin to long for an imperfect past.
Asomugha and Thompson, though not exactly powerhouses of charisma, both bring an unassuming warmth that is appropriate for such an innocent and sweet-natured film. Comedic actress Wendi McLendon-Covey delivers a brief but memorable performance as a cooking show host who masks her brash vulgarity with a housewifely persona as long as the cameras are rolling. Simple and sweet, “Sylvie’s Love” is romantic escapism at its most charming.