A Jazzman’s Blues review – the Netflix entertainment drama is Tyler Perry’s magnum opus | Drama movies

Tyler Perry didn’t become a billionaire media mogul by doing fine art. She did this by mass-producing plays, films and television series about scorned black women and their dysfunctional families who eventually find help in Christian lessons of forgiveness, dignity and self-worth. And as mesmerizing as it was to watch this New Orleans-born, former temp worker who never finished high school write, produce, direct, and star in much of this play—as well as tart, gun-toting Grandma Madea—the project Ethics didn’t exactly endear him to enthusiastic consumers who expected more from a 53-year-old black man rightfully clamoring to open one of the industry’s biggest studios on a former Confederate military base that’s home to everything from Marvel epics to Bad Boys for Life to Coming to America 2.

Spike Lee would strike the critical tone against Perry a decade ago, dismissing his work as a “slut” and a “buffoon.” But when Perry, who drew laughs by naming a soundstage after the She’s Gotta Have It director, took risks, audiences for films like For Colored Girls weren’t as strong as they were for the Madea franchise. “I’d love to go make a film as strong as Schindler’s List,” he told an audience at a Goldman Sachs conference four years ago. “I wrote a screenplay in 1995 about a Holocaust survivor and a jazz singer. But I knew what I was building I had to focus on… so I could build all these other things to stand on.”

Here at last is that feature, A Jazzman’s Blues, which couldn’t be more unrecognizable as a Tyler Perry production. Gone are the over-the-top religious themes, the risqué wigs, and the familiar rotation of troupe players burning dozens of pages a day in single shots. (Brad Benedict, a supporting actor in the BET White House drama The Oval, was a notable exception.) Instead, this is a story that takes its time building characters and conflict over the course of two-plus hours before ending with a wallop. If there’s anything to bemoan, it’s Perry’s decision to leave the film on Netflix instead of challenging its current weak box office performance. Jazzman isn’t just good for a Tyler Perry movie. It’s a good point.

Set in rural Georgia in 1940, Jazzman begins as a teenage romance between the family’s black sheep Bayou (Joshua Boone) and Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer), who is sent away to live in the North after Bayou proposes marriage. Even as he moves on with his life (enlisting in the service, avoiding combat, and returning home after an injury), he still carries a flame for Leanne. And when she returns to the arms of a white scion of a political dynasty, she sends shivers down the spine of the black community that has known her for a long time. Bayou knows she’s “playing a dangerous game,” but neither can resist the urge to reconnect. When Leanne’s diabolical mother, who sent her away to begin with, becomes aware of the children’s rekindled romance, she tells a lie that forces Bayou to leave town with his older brother for Chicago.

That brother, Wille Earl (Austin Scott), was about to make his fortune as a trumpet player and was given an audition (sort of) in the hottest room in town by his mysterious manager Ira (Ryan Eggold), a holocaust survivor with acute survivor’s guilt. But as Bayou, a shy singer with a big voice, emerges as the much bigger talent, Wille Earl’s discontent deepens with his heroin addiction. Like Leanne, Bayou is eventually drawn back home to check on his mother, whose thriving juke joint business has gone fallow after escaping the city. The star-crossed lovers come up with another plan to leave town again, this time with a baby in their party.

Everything about this movie is really absorbing. The performances are subdued. The locations, many of them ostensibly on the Perry Studios lot, are lush. The musical numbers are decadent, no doubt thanks to Perry’s roping of multi-Grammy-winning jazz composer Terence Blanchard, a longtime Spike Lee collaborator. The storytelling is effective, the scenes well-paced, the command of social and racial politics ironclad. Perry never appears on screen, in metaphor or otherwise. But his immense talent and resources shine through. And so is his heart.

So it took Perry 30 years to build an empire. In the end, there’s no doubt it was the right move. If he had tried to launch his career with Jazzman, people will probably never see the film at all, let alone in this amazing, unadulterated form. Perry not only delivered on his promise – you could call this his magnum opus. But (and I can’t believe I’m writing this) his best may indeed be yet to come.

Leave a Comment