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Quick Review: A Jazzman's Blues
Never Stop Loving
The following is my review for the film A Jazzman’s Blues. A reminder, you can click this link to see how I grade films when I review them.
A tale of forbidden love and family drama unravels forty years of secrets and lies against a soundtrack of juke joint blues in the Deep South.
Tyler Perry might be the Stephen King of the screen. Pumping out script after script and project after project whether it be through his various television programs or his films. He writes, directs, produces, and acts in his movies - plus he has his own personal studio to boot. Unfortunately where King has a whole library of literary classics, Perry’s output has been much more hit and miss and I would argue more the latter than the former. For every home run like producing the Oscar winning Precious, there’s the amazingly and laughably bad directed A Fall From Grace.
Now we have a new drama from Perry in A Jazzman’s Blues. Premiering at the Toronto Film Festival before hitting Netflix, this is said to be from a script Perry had written ages ago before he hit it big, and boy does it show. Watching it transported me back to the sort of melodrama I would expect from a 90s movie going for Oscar-bait by exploring race relations in the deep South during the Jim Crow era through a soap opera worthy tale of sex, secrets, and lies. I also wonder how much of the dialogue had been cleaned up from its original draft, because it certainly sounds like a novice’s writing in that department. But the low production budget on it shows as well as it not only felt like a script from the 90s, but also like a weekly TV melodrama that I would find playing on Lifetime as a kid when flipping through channels.
But those weaknesses aren’t enough for me to outright dislike this either. Perry’s directing is much more competent here than his more mediocre efforts, the performances are trying their best with and at time elevating the script’s weak links, and the soundtrack attached to the film was a joy for such a dramatic tragedy unfolding on screen. Every time I cringed at a bad line of dialogue or rolled my eyes about a certain melodramatic turn in the story, the music and the ensemble's ability to keep me intrigued enough about what would be the fate of these characters grabbed me back into enjoying the positives of the film.
Joshua Boone plays the lead role in Bayou, and to his credit he turns what could have easily been a very stereotypical character into someone more layered who I found myself rooting for even though the movie already gives you the heads up this won’t have a happy ending during the first few minutes in. I also want to give a shout-out to Solea Pfeiffer who plays the female love interest in this, Leanne, and somehow manages to be believable both as a naïve and tortured sixteen year old and as an adult woman trying to keep her roots secret while stuck in a (seemingly) loveless marriage.
But the film’s script makes these characters make absolutely bone-headed decisions just to keep the drama going, and it hurts what could’ve been Perry’s magnum opus had he just taken more time to polish this up. Alas what we’re left with is an okay enough but not particularly remarkable tragic drama that seems like a nostalgic blast from the past when we got these sort of movies as original TV films. This will do the job if you have two hours to kill and need a “one and done” watch on Netflix that isn’t the typical rom-com of the week they offer.