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An old-fashioned romance in ‘Sylvie’s Love’

It’s summertime in Harlem in 1957 when we get to know the beautiful souls at the center of “Sylvie’s Love.” Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) works at the register of her father’s record store but dreams of a job in television. Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) is a struggling saxophonist who spots her, and a help wanted sign, through the store window. Their attraction is immediate, but it’s not the only factor at play here. Anyone who’s ever seen a romantic drama knows that life will continue getting in the way of Sylvie and Robert’s love for the half decade we know them.

Written and directed by Eugene Ashe, “Sylvie’s Love” is an ode to classic melodramas, with sumptuous set design, gorgeous costumes and an enveloping soundtrack of mid-century hits. Its story feels familiar, but it’s also one that we haven’t seen nearly enough of: The simple fact of our protagonists’ skin color makes this homage radical and noteworthy.

While it doesn’t have the sweeping art and emotional weight of” If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Sylvie’s Love” has many charms. Thompson, for one, is wonderful as Sylvie, who is not your average romantic protagonist, especially for the time. Sylvie is naïve but also worldly, prim but also passionate and the world around her is bright and exciting and full of possibilities, even if her father (Lance Reddick) thinks her dream of working in television is far-fetched. And Thompson gives her a matinee elegance even in rolled up jeans.

But Sylvie, we soon discover, is engaged. Her fiance, a businessman from a wealthy family who she met at a cotillion, is away in Korea and she’s simply biding her time before he comes back. The introduction of Robert, thus, is more than a little disruptive to these well-laid plans. Still, they begin to bond over music and shared and different passions and before the weather turns they are in a full-blown affair.

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