Review: ‘Long Weekend’ (2021), starring Finn Wittrock and Zoë Chao

March 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Finn Wittrock and Zoë Chao in “Long Weekend” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

“Long Weekend”

Directed by Steve Basilone

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the romantic drama “Long Weekend” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Asian and a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A depressed man meets a mysterious and fun-loving woman, but their budding romance is threatened by secrets.

Culture Audience: “Long Weekend” will appeal primarily to people who like fantastical elements to romantic stories and are willing to tolerate a movie that can be cliché-ridden and doesn’t live up to its ambitious potential.

Damon Wayans Jr. and Casey Wilson in “Long Weekend” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

The romantic drama “Long Weekend” makes a fairly well-intentioned attempt to be a deep, philosophical movie about the meaning of life, but the results are a shallow and very stereotypical movie about two people who meet and quickly fall in love. Even with a talented and appealing cast, “Long Weekend” is filled with too many plot holes and cloying moments to be anything but a lightweight and forgettable movie. There’s a sci-fi element of the film that’s also badly mishandled.

“Long Weekend” writer/director Steve Basilone says in the movie’s production notes that the film is loosely inspired by events he experienced in real life, when he went through a divorce and his mother had cancer around the same time. It’s too bad that so much of the movie feels very contrived, from the flimsy plot twists to the too-cutesy dialogue between people in their 30s. There’s nothing wrong with bringing some science fiction into a romantic drama, as long as the characters are believable and the sci-fi works well for the plot overall. (The 2004 classic “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is one example of a sci-fi romantic drama that was done right.)

The beginning of “Long Weekend” starts out by showing how a Los Angeles writer named Bart Waters (played by Finn Wittrock) is experiencing a major slump in his life. A series of voicemail messages from a psychiatric facility are heard in voiceovers in the opening scenes. The messages indicate that Ben recently spent some time as a patient in the facility, but he’s been avoiding making a follow-up appointment so his doctor can evaluate his out-patient progress.

It’s revealed a little later in the movie that Bart is recovering from some kind of nervous breakdown. His beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he had problems coping with this crisis. His emotional distress caused his fiancée Whit (played by Jess Jacobs) to leave him. And that’s when Bart really had a meltdown, which led to his stay in the psychiatric facility. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t show any of this trauma in flashbacks, because it would ruin the optimistic tone that this film is trying to convey.

Sometime during this psychiatric breakdown, Bart lost his job and could no longer afford his apartment rent. And so, in the beginning of the film, he’s shown already packed up and ready to move, as the apartment building’s non-nonsense manager Patricia (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey) tells Bart that she’s about to show his apartment to a prospective tenant. The role of Patricia is very small, underwritten and actually unnecessary. It’s a waste of McLendon-Covey’s talent.

It’s unclear how long Bart was in the psychiatric facility, but his mother is now dead, and Bart apparently has no other family to turn to in this personal crisis. And so, Bart ends up moving into the garage of his best friend Doug (played by Damon Wayans Jr.), who was the person who recommended that Bart get psychiatric help. Doug lives with his wife Rachel (played by Casey Wilson) and their two kids. Doug and Rachel have a toddler daughter named Eve (played by Ellison Randell) and an energetic son named Teddy (played by Carter Morgan), who’s about 5 or 6 years old and likes to dress up as imaginary superheroes.

When Bart arrives at the house to move in, Doug generously tells Bart, “You can stay here forever.” Bart insists that his stay will be temporary, because he has a potential job lined up, and he plans to get his own place as soon as he can afford it. Bart gets the job, but it’s not his ideal gig.

Before his meltdown, Bart was a screenwriter. The first job that he gets after checking out of the psychiatric facility is writing for a medical supply catalogue. The interview is a blandly written scene showing the office manager named Larry (played by Jim Rash) reading a sample of a screenplay that Bart wrote about a man who has a nervous breakdown after his fiancée left him.

Larry remarks that although the screenplay is impressively realistic, catalogue writing is very different because it’s a form of advertising/marketing. Larry asks Bart if he’s up for this type of work, since catalogue writing isn’t as creatively exciting as writing a screenplay. Bart assures Larry that he wants the job. And then Larry shows Bart a catheter and tells Bart that the job includes describing how to use a catheter. If this movie were a sitcom, that’s about the moment the fake laugh track would play.

One day, Bart decides to go by himself to a local arthouse movie theater that’s playing his favorite film: the 1979 satire “Being There,” starring Peter Sellers. Bart falls asleep during the movie. And when the movie ends, he is woken up by a woman named Vienna (played by Zoë Chao), another customer who was in the room. As he leaves the theater, Vienna runs after him because Bart left behind his denim jacket and a half-empty bottle of liquor. She returns these items to him. He thanks her and they begin talking.

Now that Bart and Vienna have had this “meet cute” moment, it’s only a matter of time before they go through all the clichés that so many other romantic dramas like this tend to have when two young and attractive people inevitably get together. Someone in the would-be couple is socially awkward and introverted, while the other is bold and extroverted. These opposites attract and fall for each other, but then someone is reluctant to make a commitment. In this case, it’s because there’s a “big secret” that could ruin the relationship.

Immediately after returning Bart’s jacket and liquor bottle to him, Vienna tells him that she’s visiting Los Angeles. She asks Bart where she can get some of the liquor he has, because Vienna tells Bart that he looks like he could be fun. Judging by the way she’s smiling and flirting with him, it’s obvious she’s giving him a chance to ask her out on a date.

But gloomy Bart is too oblivious to these signals and tells Vienna about two nearby bars. She then says enthusiastically, “Let’s go!” And that’s when it dawns on Bart that Vienna is attracted to him. She laughs at all of his cheesy jokes and celebrity impersonations too. (Bart does lukewarm imitations of Al Pacino and Jimmy Stewart.)

The corny situations continue when they walk through a park and see some kids running past them with some sparklers. Vienna is fascinated by this sight, as if she’s never seen sparklers before. Bart is a little surprised that Vienna is acting as if sparklers are incredible inventions, and he starts to wonder if Vienna has led a very sheltered life.

During their walk through the park, he buys two sparklers from the kids and gives the sparklers to Vienna. And then, Bart and Vienna run around the park with the sparklers. How old are these people again? Twelve?

Vienna and Bart then go bar-hopping and discuss their favorite pop culture and guilty pleasures. Bart confesses that he’s watched “Being There” about 100 times since he first saw it a few years ago. However, Bart can’t really explain why he loves the movie so much, other than that seeing it makes him feel better about his life. Vienna does a terrible impersonation of Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver,” for no other reason than to show Bart that she can do celebrity impersonations too.

Bart then tells Vienna about his mother dying of cancer the year before and how he’s still grieving. He also tells Vienna about the painful breakup with his ex-fiancée and how it’s left him in a dark emotional place. Vienna shows some sympathy, as an indication that she and Bart are starting to have an emotional connection other than doing bad mimicry of celebrities in movie scenes.

“Long Weekend” has a very self-aware moment when Bart, who’s starting to think that Vienna is too good to be true, asks her: “Are you for real? Are you one of those Manic Pixie Dream Girls?” Well, yes, in fact she is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a well-known movie trope of a quirky, upbeat female character who comes along to cheer up the male protagonist while he’s going through a tough time in his life. Just because “Long Weekend” brings up this Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in a line of self-referencing dialogue, that doesn’t make the glib way that this trope is handled in the movie any better.

Bart notices that Vienna has some unusual quirks: She doesn’t own a cell phone, she says she left her ID at home, and she’s carrying around a huge wad of cash. Vienna explains to Bart that she has a lot of cash with her because her bank card isn’t working. Some more alcohol is consumed, Vienna and Bart play some pool, and they take pictures together in a photo booth. And when Bart walks Vienna back to the motel where she’s staying, he gives her his phone number, and they end up sleeping together.

What’s very contradictory about “Long Weekend” is that it wants people to believe that Vienna and Bart are a perfect match and it’s “love at first date.” But during their first date, Bart is very self-absorbed and doesn’t ask Vienna hardly anything about herself. It isn’t until the next day, when Bart happily tells Doug about Vienna, that Bart realizes that he doesn’t know basic things about Vienna.

Bart doesn’t know where she’s from, what she does for a living, and what she likes to do in her free time besides watching movies and drinking at bars. These are the kinds of things that two strangers should talk about on a first date if they’re interested in a romance beyond sexual attraction. It makes you wonder why this movie is trying so hard to convince viewers that this is supposed to be some grand love story when, by all indications, this was an impulsive hookup.

The day after Bart and Vienna first have sex, Bart describes Vienna to Doug as if Vienna isn’t just a one-night stand but could possibly be his next big love. Therefore, it’s odd that Bart doesn’t really ask her how long she’ll be in town after their first night together. If this relationship is supposed to blossom, Bart isn’t curious enough about Vienna to ask her how far away she lives. It’s an example of how there needed to be significant improvements to this movie’s screenplay.

Of course, Doug does see Vienna again. He goes back to the motel and asks her the questions that he should have asked before, including why she’s visiting Los Angeles. But she’s deliberately vague. In answer to Bart’s questions, Vienna says, “I work for this government agency. I work up north. I came to town to escape … work, everything, my mom.”

Vienna says that her mother has cancer, and the stress of taking care of her is what motivated Vienna to take this getaway trip. Just as Bart and Vienna start to form an emotional bond over their knowing what it’s like to have a mother with cancer, he freaks out when he sees that Vienna has thousands of dollars of cash in her purse. He demands to know if Vienna is hiding from the law or is up to something illegal. And that’s when Vienna tells Bart her big secret.

The rest of “Long Weekend” is a bit of a slog, as this secret affects the relationship between Bart and Vienna. There’s also a couple of more plot twists, with one more predictable than the other. Because Bart and Vienna got together so quickly after barely knowing each other, there are many parts of the movie that make the relationship look like it’s based more on lust than true love. For example, instead of dealing with the problems caused by Vienna’s secret, she just suggests to Bart that they have sex.

The movie is fairly problematic in how Bart and Doug constantly describe Vienna as a “girl.” They do not use the word “woman” to describe her. The couples in this movie are supposed to be in their mid-to-late 30s, but they act like Vienna is straight out of a sorority party and her purpose in life is to lift Bart out of his depression.

There’s very little thought in this story about Vienna’s problems (and she has quite a few), because it’s mostly about Bart’s wants and needs. Bart does an act of kindness to help Vienna with one of her problems. But then, the movie goes back to trying to make the audience believe that Bart’s wants and needs should matter more than Vienna’s, instead of them being equal partners.

And there’s a very strange scene of Doug and Rachel in their kitchen, shortly after they found out that Bart and Vienna hooked up. Bart is there too, when Rachel tells her kindergarten-age son Teddy, “Uncle Bart got laid!” And then Doug repeats it to Teddy, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to blab about a family friend’s sex life to a child of that age. The scene is supposed to be funny, but the comedy falls flat.

Fans of the ABC comedy series “Happy Endings” (which was on the air from 2011 to 2013) might be delighted to see “Happy Endings” co-stars Wayans and Wilson on screen together again. But their Doug and Rachel characters in “Long Weekend” are underdeveloped and written as a sitcom couple in a movie that’s supposed to be a romantic drama. And almost all of Doug and Rachel’s conversations in the movie are either stale one-liners or talking to Bart about his love life.

As for Wittrock and Chao, they certainly make an attractive-looking couple, and there’s some chemistry between them, but not enough to make it convincing that Vienna and Bart have fallen madly and passionately in love with each other. Chao has a lot of on-screen charisma (and Vienna is supposed to be more exuberant than Bart), but there’s a level of immaturity that Vienna and Bart have that makes their romance look very “only in a movie” phony. Maybe if their characters were in their teens or 20s, it might be more believable. But Vienna and Bart both look like they’ve experienced too much of life to act so willfully naïve about love, dating and romance.

And since Bart and Vienna got together so quickly in the movie, there’s no “will they or won’t they” suspense. And that means the movie drags out in very uninteresting ways, as Bart and Vienna go on some very stereotypical dates in the limited time that they have together. These dates could have been opportunities to bring more depth to the characters of Bart and Vienna, but these dates are superficial and actually quite monotonous.

The dialogue throughout “Long Weekend” is very trite, and the story skips over a lot of details that would make certain plot developments believable. The direction of the movie is pedestrian at best. Vienna and Bart barely know each other before they jump into a love relationship. By the end of this hackneyed and derivative movie, viewers will feel like they barely know these characters too.

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Stage 6 Films released “Long Weekend” in U.S. cinemas on March 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,’ starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo

February 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (Photo by Cate Cameron/Lionsgate)

“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar”

Directed by Josh Greenbaum

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in the fictional U.S. cities of Taylorsville and Vista Del Mar, the comedy film “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans and a few Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Two middle-aged female best friends unwittingly get ensnared in a villain’s scheme to get deadly revenge on the residents of Vista Del Mar, Florida.

Culture Audience: “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo (who co-wrote 2011’s Oscar-nominated “Bridesmaids”), but “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a disappointing, uneven dud.

Jamie Dornan in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (Photo by Cate Cameron/Lionsgate)

When close friends Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo first wrote a movie screenplay together, it was for 2011’s hilarious “Bridesmaids,” which garnered an Academy Award nomination for the duo, as well as a best supporting actress Oscar nod for “Bridesmaids” co-star Melissa McCarthy. Unfortunately, Wiig and Mumolo’s next screenplay collaboration is the messy and frequently unfunny “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” an awkward mishmash of repetitive jokes about being middle-aged women, with some sci-fi and musical theater elements that mostly fall flat. The movie definitely won’t be nominated for any awards, not even a Razzie, because “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is ultimately forgettable.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum, “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a frequently unfocused movie that loses steam in the last third of the film. Greenbaum has a background in directing sitcoms, such “Fresh Off the Boat” and “New Girl.” And that TV comedy background shows up in the most annoying ways in this movie. The music score sounds like it was made for a sitcom, and the music volume is turned up to irritating levels because it interrupts the flow of the movie.

Unlike “Bridesmaids,” which was made for adults, “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” tries to be more family-friendly and therefore loses a lot of potential to have raunchy humor that’s genuinely funny. However, there are moments where the filmmakers tried to throw in some adult-themed content, such as drug-fueled partying that ends up with some of the main characters having a sexual threesome. But this very adult scenario doesn’t really work in this film, because the movie is too cutesy with its sexual innuendo, thereby making the tone of the movie look confused and ultimately ineffective. Imagine if 2009’s “The Hangover” or 2017’s “Girls Trip” held back on a lot of the things that happened in the stories because the filmmakers wanted to make these movies suitable for underage kids to watch.

In “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” Mumolo portrays widow Barb Quicksilver and Wiig portrays divorcée Star Testigivlio, two middle-aged best friends/housemates who talk in a Midwestern twang and embody every stereotype of being a very bland, sheltered and uptight middle-aged American woman. (The movie has a running joke about Barb and Star’s penchant for wearing culotte pants.) The movie doesn’t say which U.S. state Barb and Star live in, but their hometown is called Taylorsville, and it’s far enough away from Florida that they have to travel by plane to get to the Florida city of Vista Del Mar.

Barb and Star are motormouths who frequently talk over each other but don’t have much to say that’s meaningful. They obsess over trivial things, such as why they don’t want anyone to buy their favorite sofa at the Jennifer Convertibles furniture store where they work as sales clerks. They’re so attached to the sofa that they come up with excuses for customers not to buy it. In the end, it doesn’t matter, because one day their boss (played by Ian Gomez) calls Barb and Star into his office and tells them that they’re all losing their jobs because the company has gone out of business.

As Barb and Star leave the store in shock, a friend of theirs named Mickey Revelet (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey) sees them walking down the street and runs over to talk to them. Mickey raves to Barb and Star about just coming back in town from the vacation that she and her man Miguel took in Vista Del Mar, Florida. (It’s a fictional city in Florida. The movie was actually filmed in Mexico City and Cancun, Mexico.)

Mickey brags that not only did she have a lot of fun and get a splendid tan, but she also says that going to Vista Del Mar had this effect on her: “I feel like I got a soul douche.” That’s the type of dialogue in the movie that’s supposed to be funny. Before Mickey leaves, she hands Barb and Star a travel brochure for Vista Del Mar. McLendon-Covey was a scene-stealing character in “Bridesmaids,” but “Bridesmaids” fans will be disappointed that her role in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is really just a quick cameo, since she’s only in the movie for about five minutes.

Barb and Star’s idea of fun is getting together not with a book club but with a talk club, which consists of other boring women who are around the same age. The members of the talk club gather to discuss a single topic per meeting. Shortly after Barb and Star lose their jobs, they’re at a talk club meeting, which is led by a bossy snob named Debbie (played by Vanessa Bayer) at Debbie’s home. Three other women are also in attendance: Pinky (played by Fortune Feimster), Delores (played by Phyllis Smith) and Bev (played by Rose Abdoo), who all do whatever Debbie expects them to do.

The talk club has certain rules that Debbie is fanatical about enforcing. When one of the club members is one minute late, Debbie locks the door and won’t let her inside. And the three cardinal rules of the club are (1) No wearing of sneakers; (2) No swearing, except for the “f” word; and (3) No lying. When Debbie announces that this meeting topic will be jobs, Barb and Star look at each other with dread because they’re embarrassed to talk about how they’ve become recently unemployed.

As the members of the club go around the room to talk about their jobs, (pharmacist Debbie is ecstatic when she describes how much she loves shaking pills in bottles while listening to music), Barb and Star continue to act as if they still work at the furniture store. However, the guilt of lying gets to Star, who blurts out that she and Barb lied and they actually got laid off recently. A furious Debbie kicks Barb and Star out of the club.

With their social life in shambles, Barb and Star decide to follow Mickey’s advice and take a vacation in Vista Del Mar. On the plane, there’s a sequence that goes on for far too long where Barb and Star ramble on about what kind of lady would be an ideal friend to lots of other women. They call her Trish and imagine all sorts of scenarios and personality traits that this ideal woman would have. And as soon as this becomes the entire plane conversation in the movie, you just know that there will be a character named Trish that shows up at some point.

Now for the weird and clunky sci-fi part of the story. It’s shown in the beginning of the movie that underneath the quiet streets of suburban Taylorsville is a high-tech underground bunker where a villain lives named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wiig), who wants to kill the people of Vista Del Mar for a revenge reason that’s revealed in the movie. (It’s the most obvious reason possible.) The only way to get to the bunk is through a secret entrance in a tree trunk. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Sharon has a skin condition that makes her look unusually pale and sensitive to being in sunlight. She always wears white clothing. And she wears her hair in a jet-black bob, which kind of makes her look like a cross between Gloria Vanderbilt and Tilda Swinton, if they wanted to look like a Goth who only wears white. Sharon has a bitter demeanor and she seems to have problems emotionally connecting to people.

Sharon has three people working for her: an unnamed elderly scientist (played by Patrick Bristow), a handsome henchman named Edgar Pagét (played by Jamie Dornan), and a precocious boy named Yoyo (played by Reyn Doi), who’s about 9 or 10 years old. In the movie’s opening scene, Yoyo is shown riding his bike while delivering newspapers and singing Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb’s 1980 hit “Guilty.” However, Yoyo is no mild-mannered paperboy.

The scientist tells Sharon that he’s found a way to genetically modify mosquitos so that one mosquito sting can kill a large animal in minutes. When the scientist finds out that Sharon wants to use these mosquitos to kill humans, he objects to this plan and then is on the receiving end of Sharon’s deadly wrath. Shortly after that, Sharon orders Yoyo to activate a remote control in an earring that he’s wearing. The remote control sets off a bomb that was in a newspaper that Yoyo delivered to someone’s front porch.

Sharon then dispatches Edgar to go to Vista Del Mar to let loose the lethal mosquitos on the city’s population. Edgar is infatuated with Sharon and there’s a not-very-believable subplot that Edgar wants to be her boyfriend, but she’s been resistant to the idea. Sharon has a dead personality, so it’s very far-fetched that someone like Edgar (who could have his pick of women) would be pining after someone who lacks charisma and is very self-absorbed. But maybe Edgar likes women who play very hard-to-get.

And so, when Edgar goes to Vista Del Mar and inevitably meets Barb and Star, it’s at a hotel bar. He’s pining over Sharon and distracted in thinking about her, while Barb and Star try to strike up a conversation with him. There are some shenanigans that happen between Barb, Star and Edgar that leads to a very cliché plot development in a movie about two female best friends: They end up competing with each other over a man. Take a wild guess who it is.

In addition to the sci-fi elements of the movie that are very poorly conceived (with tacky visual effects), “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” has some musical song-and-dance interludes that come out of nowhere. The first is when Barb and Star arrive at the Palm Vista Hotel, and all the people in the lobby break into a musical number to greet Barb and Star. Edgar also has an extensive musical number on the beach that involves an obvious stunt double.

There are also some other bizarre things in the movie that don’t work well either. For example, Star has a conversation with a talking crab named Morgan Freemond (voiced by Josh Robert Thompson), and the “joke” is that the crab sounds like Morgan Freeman and gives advice to the lovelorn Star. Damon Wayans Jr. has a useless role in the movie as a spy named Darlie Bunkle, who makes contact with Edgar. The running gag with Darlie is that he’s supposed to be undercover and always lectures Edgar to keep their communication “private,” but Darlie always bungles and reveals his own identity so that it’s out in the open and not “private” at all.

If the movie wasn’t trying so hard to appeal to underage audiences, it could’ve had more fun showing adults acting and talking like adults. Instead, by playing it too coy and too safe, the movie’s humor fails to be edgy or genuine. There’s a recurring character in the movie named Richard Cheese (played by Mark Jonathan Davis), who’s a singer/pianist in the hotel lounge. The joke is that Richard keeps singing about how much he loves women’s breasts, and he comes up with all sorts of ways to say the word “breasts.” It’s a mildly funny gag, but the humor is very juvenile, like 10-year-old boys giggling about saying slang words for this part of the female anatomy.

“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is a story about two middle-aged single women who go on what’s supposed to be a fun-filled vacation together, but the movie is so watered down, that Barb and Star might as well have been teenagers. Barb and Star are sheltered women, but it would’ve been funnier to have them experience culture shock in a raunchier environment. “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” is one of those movies where the trailer makes the film look a lot funnier than it actually is.

Wiig and Mumolo (who are also two of the movie’s producers) are capable of doing much better work. Barb and Star are fairly one-note. And except for a brief mention of why they are single (Barb’s husband Ron died in an accident, while Star’s husband Carmine left her for another woman), there’s no backstory for these two central characters. It seems as if the filmmakers were trying to do a middle-aged version of 1997’s “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” (another movie about two sheltered best friends who travel somewhere to party), but “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” lacks a lot of the charm that made “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” a hit.

“Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” isn’t a completely terrible movie, because viewers can find some laughs here and there. (People who are under the influence of alcohol or other substances while watching are more likely to find this movie funny.) Wiig has better comedic timing than Mumolo, while Dornan has some deliberately campy moments that can’t save this embarrassing film. Andy Garcia and Reba McEntire have unremarkable cameos in the movie. Considering the level of talent involved in this movie, it’s a misfire in so many ways, and it will just make people appreciate “Bridesmaids” even more.

Lionsgate will release “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar” on VOD on February 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Sylvie’s Love,’ starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha

December 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha in “Sylvie’s Love” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Sylvie’s Love”

Directed by Eugene Ashe

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and Detroit from 1957 to the mid-1960s, the dramatic film “Sylvie’s Love” features a predominantly black cast of characters (with some white people and a few Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A young woman who’s engaged to be married meets and falls in love with a jazz musician who doesn’t meet her mother’s approval because he comes from a lower social class.

Culture Audience: “Sylvie’s Love″ will appeal primarily to people who like sweeping romantic dramas reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Nnamdi Asomugha, Regé-Jean Page and Courtney Leonard in “Sylvie’s Love” (Photo by Nicola Goode/Amazon Studios)

“Sylvie’s Love” is a perfect movie to watch if you’re in the mood for a rollercoaster ride of a love story that’s told in the epic and lush way that romantic movies used to be made in the 1950s and early 1960s. That’s the period of time when most of “Sylvie’s Love” takes place, and it’s from the perspective of African Americans. There are expected moments of passionate romance and crushing heartbreak, but there are also social issues in the story that have to do with race, class and gender roles in society.

Written and directed by Eugene Ashe, “Sylvie’s Love” shows the romantic saga between Sylvie Johnson (played by Tessa Thompson) and Robert Holloway (played by Nnamdi Asomugha) that begins when they meet in New York City in the summer of 1957, when they’re both in the early 20s. Robert is the saxophonist in the Dickie Brewster Quartet, a semi-successful jazz group that has been gigging around the city but doesn’t have a record contract yet. Sylvie works part-time in her father’s record store, but she is expected to eventually become a wife and homemaker.

Robert first sees Sylvie through the window of Mr. Jay’s Records, a record store owned by her father (played by Lance Reddick), who’s only identified as Mr. Jay in the movie. She’s watching TV while sitting behind the counter at the store. Robert looks at Sylvie in the way that viewers can tell that if it’s not love at first sight, then it’s at least major attraction at first sight. Robert sees a Help Wanted sign in the store window, takes the sign, and uses it as an excuse to strike up a conversation with the woman behind the store counter.

Sylvie is a TV fanatic and spends as much time watching TV as she can. And so, when Robert walks into the store, she doesn’t pay much attention to him. He browses through some records and asks her a question that she barely answers because she’s focused on watching TV. When he goes to the counter with an album, he asks how much the record would cost if he got an employee discount. He holds up the Help Wanted sign to indicate that he wants to work there.

She tells him that the store actually doesn’t need to hire any new employees. Sylvie explains that her image-conscious mother wanted the sign in the store so that if people who knew the Johnson family saw Sylvie working in the store, they wouldn’t think that the family was using Sylvie as free labor and that the family could afford to hire new employees. It’s the first indication that Sylvie’s mother Eunice Johnson (played by Erica Gimpel) is very class-conscious and obsessed with appearances. Not surprisingly, Eunice runs a finishing school for girls to teach them decorum and etiquette so they will be “proper” ladies for society.

Even though Sylvie told Robert that the store didn’t need to hire any new employees, when Sylvie’s father meets Robert, he takes a liking to the young man and hires him on the spot. Sylvie’s father tells Robert that he too was a jazz saxophonist, but he gave up his dreams of being a professional musician because of the financial obligations of taking care of a family. Robert has an easygoing, respectful manner, and it isn’t long before Sylvie is charmed by him too.

On one of Robert’s first days on the job, Sylvie accidentally locks the two of them in the store’s basement. While they wait for her father to arrive to unlock the door, they start talking about music, and she recommends that Robert get Sonny Rollins’ “Way Out West” album. Robert is impressed by how much Sylvie knows about music, but she tells him that her biggest passion is television. She says that her dream job would be to work as a TV producer.

Sylvie and Robert are showing signs that they’re very attracted to each other, but there’s one big problem: She’s engaged to another man. Sylvie proudly tells Robert that her fiancé Lacy Parker (played by Alano Miller) is the son of doctor and that she met Lacy at a cotillion. Robert doesn’t seem that impressed and he doesn’t know what a cotillion is until Sylvie explains it to him.

As time goes on, it becomes clear that this engagement to a doctor’s son is making Sylvie’s mother Eunice happier than it’s making Sylvie. Not once does Sylvie say that she’s in love with Lacy. She seems to be pressured into the marriage because Lacy is considered to be a “good catch” and Sylvie likes Lacy enough to commit to marrying him. Lacy is away traveling for a certain period of time, which is why Lacy doesn’t meet Robert, and Lacy isn’t around when Sylvie and Robert start to fall in love.

Robert tries to hide his disappointment that Sylvie is engaged, but he still invites her to see him perform with his band at a local club. Sylvie goes to the show with her cousin Mona (played by Aja Naomi King), who is also Sylvie’s best friend. Sylvie and Mona are enthralled by what they see during this performance, since the Dickie Brewster Quartet is very talented, with Robert being a standout player.

The other members of the Dickie Brewster Quartet are drummer Chico Sweetney (played by Regé-Jean Page), who is Robert’s extroverted best friend; bass player Buzz Walcott (played by Courtney Leonard), who has a somewhat goofy personality; and egotistical band leader Dickie Brewster, who is the group’s pianist and chief songwriter. Chico and Mona have an immediate flirtation, and they begin dating soon after they meet.

Sylvie has led a sheltered life and has never really experienced going to nightclubs. She’s intrigued and excited, but she also becomes acutely aware that she might not fit in with the fast party crowd that frequents the nightclub. One of the club regulars is a woman named Connie (played by Raquel Horsford), who’s about 10 years older than Sylvie.

When Connie sees Robert and Sylvie sitting at a table together and talking after the show, Connie makes it clear that she’s interested in Robert. Connie cattily tells Robert that he can hang out with her when he’s done babysitting. Connie says it loud enough for Sylvie to hear. Sylvie looks slightly embarrassed. When Robert walks Sylvie home, they kiss for the first time.

During that fateful summer, Sylvie and Robert spend more time together, and they become more attracted to each other. They have double dates with Mona and Chico. Sylvie tells Robert how much she admires his talent and encourages him in his musical endeavors. Sylvie tells Robert, “I’ve never met anyone who plays music like you do.”

Robert, who is originally from Detroit, opens up about his life and tells Sylvie that he used to work on the assembly line of an auto plant. But he decided to take a big risk and quit his job to move to New York City and try to make it as a professional musician. His mother died two years ago, and he tells Sylvie: “When my mother passed, I realized that life’s too short to waste time with things you don’t absolutely love.”

Robert and Sylvie’s budding romance hits a jealousy snag when he invites her to a party attended by a lot of his nightclub friends, which include a sassy woman named Carmen (played by Eva Longoria), who runs the boarding house where the the band members live. At the party, Sylvie sees Robert dancing with Connie and gets jealous. Sylvie leaves the party in a huff, and then Sylvie and Robert have an argument out in the street,

Robert tells Sylvie that she doesn’t have a right to judge about “cheating” since she’s engaged to another man. Sylvie says that since Robert invited her to the party, she wanted to at least feel like she was special. Then they both admit that they want to feel special to each other. And not long after that, Sylvie and Robert become lovers.

During the time that Robert and Sylvie begin dating, things start to progress in Robert’s career. A wealthy French socialite named Countess Genevieve (played by Jemima Kirke), who also goes by the name Gertie, has taken an interest in the Dickie Brewster Quartet. She recommends them for gigs in Paris, invests money in buying them new clothes, and eventually becomes the group’s official manager.

Just as Robert and Sylvie’s romance is heating up, it comes to an abrupt halt when the Dickie Brewster Quartet gets offered a series of performances in Paris. Robert invites Sylvie to go with him to Paris, but Sylvie decides that it’s best if she and Robert go their separate ways permanently. (This isn’t spoiler information since it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

And there’s another reason for why Sylvie breaks up with Robert, but she keeps it a secret from many people, including Robert. She doesn’t see him or communicate with him again until 1962, five years after they broke up, when she unexpectedly finds out that Robert is back in New York City to record an album. Sylvie is now married to Lacy, they have a 5-year-old daughter named Michelle (played by Lotus Plummer), and Sylvie has been working as an assistant producer for a TV series called “The Lucy Wolper Cooking Show.”

Sylvie loves her job, and her producer boss Kate Spencer (played by Ryan Michelle Bathe) is a supportive mentor to Sylvie. The movie’s comic relief is provided by the cooking show’s host Lucy Wolper (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey), who’s prim and polished on TV, but in real life she has a bawdy sense of humor. Even though Sylvie is very happy in her career, her marriage is having problems because the job requires her to work long hours, which irritates Sylvie’s husband Lacy, who is a sales executive for an unnamed company.

Lacy doesn’t have a problem with Sylvie working outside the home, as long as it doesn’t affect her ability to have meals ready for him at his expected time, or interfere with plans he makes when he wants Sylvie to entertain clients in their home or go to his work-related events. And so, when Sylvie sees Robert again, it triggers thoughts and feelings about their romance. Meanwhile, Robert has been growing tired of being creatively stifled by Dickie, so he contemplates an offer from record company executive Sid Shuur (played by John Magaro) to launch a solo career as a musician/songwriter.

What happens in the story at times veers into melodrama, but it’s entirely realistic. The beauty of this movie is in the credible and almost poetic way that Thompson and Asomugha portray the love between Sylvie and Robert. It’s an emotionally difficult journey fraught with uncertainty over the future and circumstances that can keep them apart. But it’s also a story of emotional fulfillment and chasing happiness where you can find it.

And even though the romance in “Sylvie’s Love” began out of infidelity, writer/director Ashe doesn’t make this a cheap and tawdry story. Rather, the movie demonstrates the hard choices that people sometimes have to make when they fall in love with the right person at the wrong time. Viewers will feel invested in finding out that happens to Sylvie and Robert because these characters are relatable on many levels.

Everything about “Sylvie’s Love” is a glorious ode to the era in which the movie take place. The direction, music, cinematography, costume design and production design are among the technical elements that fit this movie like a snug, elbow-length satin glove. However, you don’t have to be a retro movie fan to enjoy “Sylvie’s Love,” which has timeless themes about love and self-identity. It’s not a perfect film, but it perfectly captures the emotions of a complicated romance.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Sylvie’s Love” on December 23, 2020.