Sylvie’s Love, starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha as the pair of star-crossed lovers, is sweet, gentle, and simplistically beautiful. Stories like these fill our hearts with hope. The kind where where two loves meet, fall in love, are pulled apart, and somehow find each other again. To see this depicted on screen with a Black cast only enhances its beauty, as so few tales showcase our stories, especially without significant trauma. But, though lovely and saccharine, Eugene Ashe’s film almost derails its ending with toxic masculinity.
Sylvie’s father owns a record store and her mother teaches girls the social behaviors and graces befitting women in ’50s Harlem. While their life is not rich, appearances are important, particularly to her mother. Sylvie meets Robert when he comes to the record store to buy a Thelonious Monk record and inquires about a job. And so their journey towards love begins.
I love the way the film shows issues like gender roles, for the most part, and racism. It’s present in the film, yet the focus is on two people in love and how they come together. The sets bring to mind images of old television commercials running ads for the “happy housewife.” The film has a realistic quality amidst its fairytale feel that endears us to the story and relationship. On top of all this, the music is beautiful, especially if you’re a fan of the music from that decade. (There will be songs you know and songs you’ll definitely look up after seeing the film.)
Tessa Thompson is delightful to watch as always. She can depict strength, love, and frailty in a single glance—a feat rarer than some may realize. Nnamdi Asomugha holds his own as her partner. Their chemistry showcases a love that sweeps the pair away despite obstacles.
However, their love isn’t always as beautiful as we perceive it to be. Sylvie’s love is altruistic, as most women’s love seems to be depicted on screen. Knowing she is pregnant and not wanting to take Robert’s music opportunity away, she opts to remain silent so that he can pursue his jazz dream. It’s an incredible sacrifice given the time and views on both women and pregnancies outside the “sanctity of marriage.” But she does this because she loves Robert.
But in the latter part of the film, it becomes clear that this doesn’t go both ways. Attributive characteristics of “what makes a man a man” guide Robert’s conversations and thoughts. He prioritizes his perceptions of manhood over those he loves. His choices stem from the masculine belief that if you are not providing, particularly as the major breadwinner in the household, abandonment of said family is the preferred choice. Better that than lose your masculine pride.
Even though the story tries to draw a parallel between Sylvie’s decision and Robert’s, it isn’t apples to apples. Though the ending is happy, almost fairytale-like, we have to wonder what happens after and whether Robert’s views on gender roles will continue to create increasingly larger obstacles for them in the future.
This is a beautiful story and I enjoyed it immensely… until the end. It’s exhausting seeing men prioritize nonsense over their love. And it’s downright depleting to witness women pursue them regardless. Hopefully, people enjoy the film without lamenting that they don’t have a love like the one onscreen. Be grateful. Any relationship where you have to lessen yourself to make your partner feel special or important is not one to emulate.