And it manages to avoid some pitfalls of the genre.
Sometimes I watch movies I have absolutely no interest in simply because I’ve heard good things from others. For me, Sylvie’s Love is one of those films. It follows Sylvie (Tessa Thompson), a young girl who falls in love with Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) at the wrong time. She has big dreams for a career in television and he is a talented musician with a bright future in front of him. They are both forced to choose between their love for each other or their love for their dreams again and again.
Sylvie’s Love is a truly beautiful film! It manages to recreate the dreaminess of old Hollywood romances, but centers around Black love, which is such a fun way to shake up the genre! Though it follows the normal path of many other romances, it differentiates itself because of the quality of the film and the three-dimensional. Each character has agency, poise, and sought-after positions in society.
While watching Sylvie’s Love, I kept comparing it to The Notebook and Bridgerton. All three of these works are romances that transport us back to a different time. While Sylvie’s Love isn’t perfect, I think it did a number of things far better than these other two romance stories.
Racism Still Exists in Sylvie’s Love
One of the biggest hangups I had while watching Bridgerton was the show’s near refusal to acknowledge racism. There is a short conversation in the fourth episode of the first season but, to me, that didn’t feel like enough. Honestly, racism felt like the elephant in the room. It was the question I had that I wanted them to address in the first episode. By the time I got to the fourth episode, it felt like too little too late.
In Sylvie’s Love, it’s clear that racism exists in this world during this time period. The only overt expression of racism we see is when it’s revealed that Lacy, Sylvie’s husband, is going to get a big account because the firm is in trouble with the NAACP. He’s fine with that, but Sylvie has some serious qualms.
There are other mentions of the systemic racism that’s still prevalent in our world today. Sylvie takes a job as an assistant producer on a TV show, a job she never thought a Black woman could hold. Robert’s talent as a musician takes him into the rooms with the gatekeepers, though he doesn’t have any of the power. White people are the managers who make the introductions, allowing Robert and his band into other white spaces.
While watching Sylvie’s Love, I felt like I was transported back in time to a world that was similar to ours but was better. Because everything wasn’t perfect, I didn’t have that question “What about racism?” rolling around in my head while watching.
Healthy Relationships are Possible in Sylvie’s Love
Sylvie’s Love follows a very similar plot to The Notebook. I know many people love The Notebook, but I am not one of them. Whenever I’ve watched that movie, I’ve been amazed at how toxic the relationship is between Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams).
While they have a whirlwind romance, it’s incredibly unhealthy. Sure, it’s exciting, but they seem to bring out the absolute worst in each other. I will never understand why she didn’t choose Lon (James Marsden) who is the more healthy individual, in my opinion.
I was worried that Sylvie’s Love was going to follow that same path, leading Sylvie to choose the more dysfunctional relationship instead of the healthy one. But it managed to sidestep that issue.
Though Lacy (Alano Miller) is stable, it’s clear that he has some unrealistic expectations for Sylvie to live up to. He says he loves her, but he doesn’t seem to have much regard for what she wants. I also doubt she had been very vocal about her goals or ambitions. She probably thought she owes him for marrying her through she was pregnant with Robert’s child. I loved the steadiness of Lacy, but his utter disregard for her dreams made it difficult for me to truly root for their relationship.
Robert is the dreamy musician who Sylvie just can’t stay away from. There’s an electric connection between these two and, even though they make some unhealthy choices (cheating on your fiance or spouse is never a great choice in my book), their relationship isn’t as toxic as you often see in romance films. Sure, Robert has his issues with communication and pride, but he’s willing to make sacrifices for Sylvie that we don’t always see. He doesn’t have to make a big, grand gesture to prove that he loves her, but he’s there, day after day, with Sylvie and their daughter. And it’s those practical, daily decisions that are the most important.
One of my biggest issues with romance films is that they often focus on the build-up to a relationship. This time is dramatic and exciting. The “will they, won’t they” formula is great to get people engaged in the story. But often, these portrayals don’t show the difficulties in the relationships. They also tend to perpetuate the lie that you’re only complete when you're in a romantic relationship.
While Sylvie’s Love does follow the typical romance plot, it centers around some pretty well-rounded characters. Both Sylvie and Robert have a level of emotional health that we don’t always see. They are able to express themselves and their feelings at a deeper level than we often see in the genre. The love birds are willing to sacrifice something for the other. They aren’t willing to stand in the way of the dream of the other.
Normally, romance films require one character to give up everything for the other, but in Sylvie’s Love, they both sacrifice for the other throughout the film. They’re willing to walk away from the other, instead of standing the way of their dreams. What a great depiction of the selflessness of love!
Sylvie’s Love is a dreamy romance that also has a lot of substance. I was entirely caught up in the mood of it all. I loved the music, costumes, and set design. I really felt as though I was transported back in time. The characters are interesting and complex; they reminded me of real people who I could become friends with. The story is a sweet one that shows fairly healthy characters who are learning how to love one another. It’s an enjoyable film, even for those who might not gravitate toward the romance genre.