After the film’s debut at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, A Jazzman’s Blues finally arrives on Netflix on September 23rd. Set almost entirely in rural Georgia during the late 1930s/early 1940s, the movie follows the forbidden love between two abused and cast-aside black teenagers. Bayou and Leanne ignite a passion that could cost them everything by meeting in secret and trading messages on paper airplanes.
The film stars Joshua Boone (Premature, Seven Seconds) as the aforementioned Bayou, Solea Pfeiffer (Scandal) as his love interest Leanne, Amirah Vann (How To Get Away With Murder) as Bayou’s mother Hattie Mae, and Austin Scott (Pose, Sistas) as Bayou’s brother Willie Earl.
Jazzman is the longtime passion project of multi-hyphenate movie mogul Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, A Fall From Grace), who wrote this screenplay as his very first back in 1995. In his interview with Krista Smith on the podcast “Skip Intro”, Perry discussed how he held the film back for a very long time as he was “very concerned about the bottom line” considering “as a creator you don’t get many flops”, especially as black director in the business. He decided to bring his words to life now in response to what he referred to as “this assault on American history, Black American history, banning of books, the watering down and homogenizing of slavery.”
With the setting of the “Jim Crow” Era South, Perry puts many of the social & political issues of the time on display through the journey of Bayou. A spiritual extension to past successful Netflix period dramas such as Dee Ree’s Mudbound & Rebecca Hall’s Passing, the film takes on such difficult topics as racial oppression, lynchings, sexual violence, and “passing” – a term used in that era for a black person passing themselves off as a white person to escape the persecution their lives would present. In addition to the racial tensions presented in the story, Bayou’s journey includes the tainted roots of his upbringing that are marred by domestic matters such as infidelity, jealousy, & marital abuse.
While these oppressive elements of life during that time of history for Black Americans have been explored through many other films over the years, Perry attempts to separate his story from the others with a Shakespearean love story. He creates a romantic entanglement by bonding Bayou, a young man burdened by a father & brother who relish in casting him aside and stifling his talents, with Leann, a young woman who is being shunned by her community while enduring mental and physical abuse by her family. With a passion fueled by truly being seen by another person for the first time in their young lives, Bayou and Leann want nothing more than to run away from all of this and live together in whatever version of peace they could find. Just as this dream was set to become their reality, Leann is ripped away by her mother, who sets forth a dangerous gambit by forcing Leann to “pass” for white and marry a rich white man she meets in college up North. When confronted with Leann’s new arrangement, Bayou is compelled to fight for his love once more and reclaim the life that was taken from them.
While many of the themes in this film are admirable and worthy of examination, Perry’s writing & direction often creates a melodramatic & soapy tone that doesn’t elevate the often-used subject matter bested by the awards-level period dramas that have come before. Ironic considering his screenplay is almost 30 years old, the movie almost feels like a late 90s/early 2000s version of this type of romantic historical piece, with some of my fellow critics making some comparisons specifically to the film adaptation of The Notebook given the forbidden summer romance, mountain of unread, intercepted letters, & a story told in flashback from a present-day retelling. While no comparison is a complete one-for-one, A Jazzman’s Blues does feel familiar and, by extension, predictable in its construction.
While I don’t always love Tyler Perry as a director, I do admire his ability to gather talented people on his projects. This ability is displayed in this film by the jazz numbers & score arrangements that make the film come alive. Legendary composers Terrance Blanchard (known for his film scoring with longtime collaborator Spike Lee) and Aaron Zigman (longtime collaborator on Perry’s previous work plus the composer for a little-known film: The Notebook) compose many of the jazz arrangements plus the backing score for the film. Also, in the more elaborate performance pieces at the club in Chicago that Bayou thrives in, we are treated to dance numbers choreographed by the celebrated “Fame” icon Debbie Allen. Throw in some Duke Ellington staples sung by Joshua Boone, and you can see where Tyler Perry’s attention to detail and eye for talent really benefit this project.
Overall, A Jazzman’s Blues is a step up for Perry compared to his previous work, but not the awards-level leap that seemed possible with a high-level festival premiere.
Watch A Jazzman’s Blues on Netflix if you like:
- Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
- The Color Purple
- The Notebook
MVP of A Jazzman’s Blues on Netflix
Joshua Boone as Bayou.
With a story to tell and a song to sing, Boone’s Bayou is a standout role for the up-and-coming actor. Boone shows off his range by playing a broken young man who yearns to be seen & heard by the people he loves most while also having more talent than all of them.
Should you Play, Pause or Stop?
Tyler Perry’s penchant for melodrama & soap makes the delivery of this important & relevant story hit a few too many flat notes.
Did you enjoy A Jazzman’s Blues on Netflix? Let us know in the comments down below.