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‘Sylvie’s Love’: In beautiful 1950s Harlem, a rocky road to romance

Tessa Thompson stars as budding TV exec who catches the attention of an aspiring jazz musician in the lush period piece.

The heroine of “Sylvie’s Love” (Tessa Thompson) is already engaged when she meets sax player Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha).
Amazon Studios

This is the time of year (even this year) for Oscar-bait movies featuring A-list stars, but here’s hoping you’ll find room on your holiday viewing list for the smaller, period-piece gem “Sylvie’s Love,” a lush and beautifully filmed romance set in the Harlem of the 1950s and 1960s. Like the great Douglas Sirk melodramas of that time period, “Sylvie’s Love” is unabashedly sentimental and just gorgeous to behold — but the difference here is the terrific ensemble cast is primarily Black and Latinx.

The wonderfully versatile Tessa Thompson (“Annihilation,” the “Creed” movies, “Westworld”) is the title character, first seen as a vision in turquoise as Nancy Wilson’s “The Nearness of You” swells on the soundtrack. Sylvie is in fact about to see Nancy Wilson in concert at the Town Hall in Manhattan when she spots Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), whom she hasn’t seen in years. From the moment they set eyes upon one another, we know they were more than just friends back in the day — and just like that we flash back about five years, when Sylvie was working in her father’s record store (Lance Reddick lends great heart to the movie as Sylvie’s father) and Robert was an aspiring tenor sax jazz musician who walked into that store, wound up taking a job and fell in love with Sylvie.

But it’s … complicated. Sylvie is engaged to and eventually marries Lacy (Alano Miller), an ambitious advertising account exec who loves Sylvie and has come to terms with the fact he is not the love of her life, while Robert finds success with his jazz quartet and tours the world — a tour that eventually leads to him running into Sylvie outside Town Hall. The love triangle is the main focus of “Sylvie’s Love,” which at times feels like “The Way We Were” meets “A Star Is Born,” but writer-director Eugene Ash does a magnificent job of weaving in a myriad of intriguing subplots, including Sylvie developing a love for television that started with her watching shows such as “I Love Lucy,” and becoming a star TV executive at a time when there were few if any Black women running shows in the unfortunate reality of the actual world.

Aja Naomi King plays an activist who advises her cousin on the phone.
Amazon Studios

Aja Naomi King provides comic relief and social conscience as Sylvie’s activist cousin, who is usually on the road and about to attend some historic march or speech when she’s on the phone with Sylvie, while Jemima Kirke has a small but scene-stealing role as an influential band manager known as The Countess.

“Sylvie’s Love” reaches what would be a traditional movie ending about three-fourths of the way through the story and then takes some intriguing and absolutely plausible turns, giving what had already been an involving love story an extra layer of resonance.