Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) has taught, like a proper lady, from her mother to stand up straight, shoulders back and chin up. Unobserved, in the back of her father’s record store, she is much looser, freer, grooving to Bill Haley’s See You Later, Alligator.
In Eugene Ashe’s glossy romance, it’s this uninhibited joy that catches the attention of jazz saxophonist Robert (NFL musician and actor Nnamdi Asomugha). Set in Harlem from 1957 to 1962, despite Sylvie’s dedication to the respectable Lacy, the spark between the two fires (Alano Miller).
Further challenges are an unwelcome pregnancy and a career-making gig in Paris. Ashe takes the form of ’50s melodrama, like Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Speak and Todd Haynes’ Carol, and focuses on characters the genre has tended to neglect. It is less interested in subverting the “women’s film” than in defining itself as one. This film is not as politically troubled as those films.
Just as the New York images of Saul Leiter were a visual reference point for Carol, the filmmaker Declan Quinn draws inspiration from Life magazine’s photo essays by Gordon Parks. With Thompson as striking as any Golden Age heroine in a Teal Chanel gown and white elbow-length gloves, the costumes are also a fantasy.