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Performance Review: 'Sylvie's Love'

Amazon Studios acquired writer-director Eugene Ashe’s romantic drama Sylvie’s Love after its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The New York Times calls the movie “a callback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, but this time with Black characters taking center stage.” It follows Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), a young woman helping out at her father’s record store in 1950s Harlem, who meets an aspiring saxophonist named Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) when he applies for a job at the shop. Sparks inevitably fly, even though Sylvie is engaged and her mother does not approve of the budding relationship with Robert. Their romance faces many other obstacles along the way, and you’ll have to wait until Amazon begins streaming Sylvie’s Love to find out if the two make it past the challenges and wind up together. In the meantime, we’ll give you our take on how the stars did in their respective, leading roles. 

Tessa Thompson 
You may be familiar with Thompson’s work in blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok and Men in Black: International or in the popular HBO series Westworld. But Thompson’s character in this piece is far different than Valkyrie, Agent M, or Charlotte Hale. The role of Sylvie makes one think of old Hollywood stars such as Audrey Hepburn, who happened to inspire the character’s wardrobe. Thompson makes the role all her own, though, creating a person of depth who pushes past the confines society tries to place on her. Sylvie aspires to be a TV producer and balances motherhood with her career goals, even when it causes tension at home. Thompson is fascinating to watch in the role and beautifully executes a character arc that involves Sylvie aging and maturing over the course of the film. As we watch her grow up and come into her own, Thompson maintains the character’s tendency to try and hold herself together, even when things start to fall apart. The trait is likely a result of her upbringing by a mother that teaches etiquette and deportment, and Thompson capitalizes on the character’s backstory to deftly play certain crucial scenes. You see the tension building in her before Sylvie unleashes a wave of pent-up emotion. In order to pull this off, the actor stays present in each scene, and she contributes to the suspension of disbelief by allowing her character to search for the right words in the moment. Thompson delivers consistently dynamic work in her role as the film’s leading lady, leaving you rooting for her success in both her career and in love.  

Nnamdi Asomugha
Asomugha’s Robert comes off as the quintessential “good guy.” There may not be a tangible reason why, but right off the bat, you sense that he’s the type of person who truly cares about people. The actor said during an interview with Variety that after going on the campaign trail for Joe Biden with his wife Kerry Washington, Asomugha was frequently asked if he would himself consider going into politics. So perhaps the trustworthiness Robert seems to exude in Sylvie’s Love is a part of the actor’s essence that he brings to the role, one that suggests a proficiency in public service. Asomugha also bestowed his saxophonist character a certain degree of authenticity by spending about a year learning how to play the instrument in preparation for the role. Such self-discipline may have been well-honed by the actor’s former career as a pro football player in the NFL. As a thespian, Asomugha delivers strong work in Sylvie’s Love, giving a performance that displays his ability to be emotionally available from moment to moment. Robert rarely raises his voice, and the actor allows his storytelling to come from his eyes, which are often searching for the answers his character seeks. Like Thompson, he believably plays the plot’s timeline in which his character ages, but Asomugha’s Robert retains a certain boylike quality that makes his earnest pursuit of Sylvie’s love that much more impactful. 
Thompson and Asomugha both served as producers on the project, and the former spoke to the importance of the film. “The truth is, when these films do well, it makes way for more films like this, and I think that there’s a wealth of stories — particularly exploring black love — that are waiting to be told,” she told Variety. You can see Sylvie’s Love when it arrives on Amazon Prime December 23, at which time you can also take in strong supporting performances from names like Eva Longoria and Aja Naomi King.
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