I was in my late 20s when I first read Katherine Woodward Thomas’s Calling In the One. It was a palatable read, perfect for a time in my life when I believed my soulmate was running a tad behind on his arrival. By the time I flipped through to the last page of the highly recommended love manual, I felt completely enlightened and wholeheartedly open to the idea of meeting the man of my dreams. If only self-help books worked like magic pills. They don’t. Luckily, there are movies like Sylvie’s Love. The kind that hopeless romantics wish for, even if it means just for a moment, they (read: we) get to lean into the somewhat clichéd idea that the One does, in fact, exist.
Set in New York City during the late 1950s to early 1960s, Sylvie’s Love explores the complicated path of two wide-eyed lovers amid the backdrop of the fight for civil rights. Their journey begins when Sylvie, played by Tessa Thompson, and emerging musician Robert Holloway (Nnamdi Asomugha) fall for each other after the NYC newcomer seeks employment at Sylvie’s father’s record store in Harlem. Their connection is instant, swoon-worthy from the start. As Sylvie’s eyes lock with the talented saxophonist, the attraction between the two onscreen sweethearts is as obvious as the large engagement ring she’s sporting on her left hand.
Every great love story needs a little conflict, and writer and director Eugene Ashe introduces that element perfectly. While Sylvie’s wealthy, war-deployed fiancé (Alano Miller) presents a large obstacle for the duo, there’s not a singular stumbling block for this unlikely pair. Class differences (Sylvie grew up attending cotillions while Robert has no familiarity with the formal ball for Black high-society), distance, a major secret, aspiring careers, and feelings of inadequacy bring forth a rich plot full of both infectious joy and sorrowful tears. All the while our hearts root for the attractive couple who started off as a summer romance, hoping that each snag in the road is more a detour than it is a dead end.
Thompson and Asomugha’s onscreen love is electric, believable in the best kind of way. But what’s equally as impressive as their chemistry is the majestic manner in which their love is explored. There’s something to be said about a story like theirs—one that simply touches on the struggle of Black Americans but doesn’t dwell on it. One that focuses on the regalness of Black love, the beauty of its complexity and the against-all-odds approach it is sometimes forced to take.
Sylvie’s Love is a classic romance, but in telling this jazz-centric affair, Ashe is also careful to celebrate the spirit of following one’s dreams—whether it be in love or life in general. We see that as the title protagonist is forced to make tough decisions on her road to a fulfilling career in TV. Simultaneously, Robert is challenged to make similar choices as he pursues a profession in a music industry that fails to adequately value his talent.
Laced with tunes from Sam Cooke, The Drifters, Nancy Wilson, and more, Sylvie’s Love reinforces humanity in the most trying of times. It also stands as a necessary reminder that things get complicated, things fall apart, and every once in a while things come together and true love wins.
Sylvie’s Love is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Tanya Christian is a writer and editor based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @tanyaachristian.