Review: Tyler Perry brings passion project to Netflix, but ‘A Jazzman’s Blues’ isn’t a huge departure
Bayou (Joshua Boone), a young Black man living in 1930s Georgia, is disparaged by his father and brother and struggles to find confidence in his singing talent and sensitive personality, until he falls for Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer), a local girl who teaches him how to read.
Their torrid entanglement, and the tragic path it leads them on, unfolds in writer, director and producer Tyler Perry’s proficient period melodrama “A Jazzman’s Blues.” Threading familiar tropes of the perils Black individuals faced in a still segregated American society and enlivened by its musical sensibilities, the story begins with an innocent teenage courtship torn apart by hurtful circumstances and a geographic separation.
Perry’s narratively convenient writing leads to a serendipitous reunion years later in the same town. But Leanne, whose complexion and features allow her to pass as a white woman, has now married a wealthy white man to appease her mother. To save his life after a dangerous accusation, Bayou flees to Chicago where his career as a headlining entertainer flourishes. Soon enough, home beckons him back to his beloved.
Among the cast, the wonderful Amirah Vann stands out as Hattie Mae, Bayou’s astute mother with a privileged voice, while Boone is at his best when belting and delighting the audience onstage.
The prolific, wildly successful Tyler Perry wrote historical drama “A Jazzman’s Blues” in 1995. It finally world premieres at 2022 Toronto film festival.
But unlike recent titles centering the experiences of Black Americans around the same period — such as “Passing,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” or even the 1960s-set “Sylvie’s Love” — Perry’s tale doesn’t much interrogate Leanne’s position in the Jim Crow-era South or the ideals of masculinity that Bayou fails to fulfill. The themes are there, but only thinly layered.
Despite the political shortsightedness and conspicuous dialogue typical of Perry’s screen work, there is dramatic substance in the interpersonal conflicts explored, even while they don’t stray far from the filmmaker’s previous intrigues. With the calamitous nature of the central romance and an elegant execution, Perry does invoke a sense of longing for what might have been for these fictional lovers in a world less hateful.
And yet the fact that “A Jazzman’s Blues” is one of the prolific media mogul’s most polished directorial efforts — both in the ambition of its scope and the luminous artistry of cinematographer Brett Pawlak — doesn’t necessarily mean it’s much of a departure. Notwithstanding the embellishments, this undoubtedly remains a Tyler Perry film — occasionally for better, but often for worse.
'A Jazzman's Blues'
Rating: R, for some drug use, violent images, rape, brief sexuality and language
Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
Playing: The Landmark Westwood; streaming on Netflix
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