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Friday, September 16, 2022

The Movie Report #1186 - September 16, 2022

The Movie Report

#1186 - September 16, 2022


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Review: A Jazzman's Blues

The Movie Report

***; Rated R

Even if one is unaware of the backstory of the 27-year journey it took for Tyler Perry to finally realize A Jazzman's Blues on the screen, it is quite evident from the first post-Netflix logo frames how much more this particular project, the first screenplay he ever wrote, means to the ever-prolific writer/director/producer. Even though the opening scenes (and, for that matter, the bookending epilogue) are set in the not too far-flung year of 1987, there is a richness to the image and, especially, flavor to the place. The antiseptic, blatantly studio-bound aesthetic characteristic of much of his recent work on both the big and small screens is gone, with the honeyed tones of Brett Pawlak's cinematography not only distinctly cinematic (a pity that 99.9% of the film's audience will only be viewing this on a television screen) but quite transporting to the film's primary setting of Hopewell, Georgia.

After the brief framing introduction, the film then further transports 50 or more years back to 1937 and familiar territory to, if not necessarily Perry's own films, many a movie melodrama of yesteryear, with two young, star-crossed lovers. Bayou (Joshua Boone) is the mild-mannered, mama's boy son of washer woman Hattie Mae (Amirah Vann) and jazz musician Buster (E. Roger Mitchell). Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer) is a young woman derisively nicknamed "Bucket" due to her mother leaving her to live with her grandfather. A humble meeting at a gathering leads to nightly secret meetings she summons via paper airplanes through his window, but such bliss is destined/doomed to be short-lived, and the two are forcibly separated. A full decade passes, and while the time has brought with it some inevitable change for Bayou and his family, his love for Leanne remains stronger than ever, despite having no reciprocated contact all this time -- even when she returns to town not only married to a white man, but passing as a white woman.

The love story is meant to be the primary hook for the whole film, but, ironically, this is the probably the angle that is the least captivating. This is no fault of the actors, however. Established stage stars Boone and Pfeiffer are appealingly fresh screen presences, with the dramatic chops to match and a natural, no-frills chemistry that sells the initial, pure connection between Bayou and Leanne. However, Perry's writing of Leanne after the time jump greatly diminishes rooting interest and investment in her and Bayou's ongoing relationship. With her decision to pass also comes a sense of self-involved entitlement, and if Perry more fully fleshed out the psychological and emotional fallout from her childhood trauma, there may have been some leeway for empathy. As is, though, she comes off as a bit too selfish in her actions and motivations, perhaps even consciously taking advantage of Bayou's intense devotion to her.

Luckily, Bayou's life and world are fully developed beyond his single-minded focus on Leanne, and more involving are the relationships with his family members. Vann is equal parts warmth and grit as the caring but steely strong Hattie Mae, who, like her portrayer, is a bona fide star in the juke joint she runs in the neighborhood. Driving most of the drama is the tension with Bayou's more Alpha-male older brother Willie Earl (Austin Scott), who could have easily fallen into a one-dimensional villain trap, given how the brothers' relationship fits into the Cain and Abel archetype. The title A Jazzman's Blues presumably refers to Bayou and his tortured romance with Leanne, but it actually is a more accurate description of Willie Earl's arc. While Bayou eventually falls into a career as a jazz singer in a rather flukish manner, Willie Earl, much like the father who blatantly favored him, has music as his primary pursuit since his youth. Even though it leads into some unsavory actions and a destructive drug habit, his bitterness and envy over Bayou's seemingly easy success comes from a very real and relatable place, made all the more so by the vulnerable shades in Scott's performance.

One wishes Scott also had more opportunity to showcase his own considerable vocal talents in the film, but even so, the film is at its best during its numerous musical performance scenes. Boone is magnetic with his smooth, Nat King Cole-esque vocal style, and providing variety and contrast is Vann's stellar voice at the centerpiece of the film's more energetic juke joint numbers. In fact, the film's music as a whole -- both the score by Aaron Zigman and songs produced by the great Terence Blanchard -- serves as a far more effective unifying element to A Jazzman's Blues than the central romance. This is no better exemplified than by the film's central original song, the Blanchard and Ruth B.-penned "Paper Airplanes," which packs a punch during its later reprises due to the soulful composition and performances of the song itself, and not so much the narrative it's attached to. But feeling is feeling all the same, and one cannot deny that Perry ultimately elicits an earnest emotional response with A Jazzman's Blues.

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Follow me on Instagram - @twotrey23 Follow me on Twitter - @twotrey23 Subscribe to YouTube Channel

Instagram: @twotrey23

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