A Jazzman’s Blues, 2022.
Written and Directed by Tyler Perry.
Starring Joshua Boone, Amirah Vann, Solea Pfeiffer, Ryan Eggold, Austin Scott, Milauna Jackson, Brent Antonello, Brad Benedict, Kario Marcel, Kelley Davis, Lana Young, Robert Stevens Wayne, Emily Lane, Cody Pressley, Candi VandiZandi, and E. Roger Mitchell.
Follows an investigation into an unsolved murder unveiling a story full of forbidden love, deceit, and a secret.
Opening up in 1987 with a slow zoom on a television screen where a white politician rants and raves about his disdain for affirmative action (generally making an all-around racist jackass of himself), an elderly Black woman walks over to the TV and shuts it off while softly grumbling “that’s enough,” a sentiment we can all get behind.
Coming from writer/director Tyler Perry (the first script he ever wrote, here made into a feature-length film 27 years later with a decent chunk of Netflix money behind it), this shot (lensed by Brett Pawlak) is methodically constructed enough to convince one that the filmmaker’s foray into dramatic material with A Jazzman’s Blues might yield something substantial worth discussing.
Two minutes later, in what has to be one of the bluntest and funniest framing device setups in recent memory, that same woman marches on into the politician’s office and slams down a heavy stock of letters, essentially telling him to get his ass to business solving a mystery from 40 years ago. As the politician reads, the clock turns back roughly 50 years ago to the same Georgian town.
Joshua Boone is Bayou (a nickname based on his deep eyes), a 17-year-old boy ostracized by those around him, mercilessly verbally abused by his father (E. Roger Mitchell), and equally picked on by his slightly older brother Willie Earl (Austin Scott), adored by his lovely mother Hattie (the same woman from the prologue sequence, played in the past by Amirah Vann), and sweet according to local girl Solea Pfeiffer’s Leanne (cruelly referred to most townsfolk as Bucket). Bayou is somewhat aloof and uneducated but endearing (Joshua Boone has nothing to do with the problems here), as his brother Willie Earl is perceived as the musically gifted one that will go on to make something of his life.
Tyler Perry doesn’t know subtlety, so the dysfunctional family drama in A Jazzman’s Blues comes fast and loud, particularly with the comically overplayed man of the house who ups and leaves for Chicago, taking all the remaining money. This rash exit only furthers the heat between siblings, with Willie Earl now resenting Hattie, assuming that she shows favoritism to Bayou. Throughout this, Bayou has been sneaking out of the house, bonding with the charming Leanne at night, learning to read and write, and falling for one another.
Upon confessing that love, Leanne runs off and claims they can’t see each other again. It turns out she’s being sexually abused by her grandfather and fears that she is no longer pure for Bayou, which he assures is false as he wishes he could do something about the situation. In one of the letters, he wonders if he is weak, just like his berating father says. He doesn’t have to worry about that anymore, as Leanne’s mom is now aware of their love and sends her to Boston.
The chemistry between Joshua Boone and Solea Pfeiffer is not to blame; from the beginning, they radiate starcrossed doomed lover energy and are wonderful to be around. That’s not to say Tyler Perry doesn’t overcook some of their drama as well, but it’s nothing compared to the rest of the characters in A Jazzman’s Blues, who rarely have any meaningful context behind any of their often rushed, absurd actions. Even the harrowing tidbits, such as the sexual abuse mentioned above, come across as small character details rather than a part of the person’s identity; trauma is a characteristic to fuel overblown melodrama.
Within minutes, anyone remotely alert and paying attention to the screen will notice that quite a few characters are noticeably light-skinned, as if they could pass for white. Passing eventually comes into play in A Jazzman’s Blues, but it’s explored as a means to elevate the dangerous love without poignancy. Everything here is cranked up to 11 and barrelled through narratively, leaving no room for layered characterization. There’s a point where Willie Earl pops back up in the movie (he too leaves for Chicago) with a suspicious-looking European man that he claims is a manager capable of getting him booked at the Capital Royale, and the most shocking thing in the movie is that it’s true.
Having said that, once circumstances beyond Bayou’s control also force him to Chicago in 1947, where he starts to realize the full extent of his singing talents (another terrific aspect of Joshua Boone’s performance), Tyler Perry finds a decent rhythm by constructing several musical numbers and a lavish recreation of the aforementioned venue. However, even those moments are undercut by repetitively infuriating scenes of Willie Earl, now more jealous than ever that he is not the star of the show, also having developed a heroin addiction. Similar to the father character (and a few others there’s just not enough time to get around to talking about here), these behaviors are heightened to unintentional hilarity.
There’s no denying that the tragic fate these lovers are destined for is sad; knowing it’s coming doesn’t lessen the impact. But the unchecked nonsensical melodrama surrounding Bayou and Leanne (again, even though they have the occasional wobbly writing to power their way through) is like an out-of-tune horn played by a drug addict. And then the final (predictable) reveal comes, followed by a shot panning back that, while it makes for a clever juxtaposition to the opening, culminates in an unbelievably corny image that would have been incredible if the rest of the movie was tightly wound and smartly written. In theory, it’s a brilliant payoff, but just about everything preceding it fails.
A Jazzman’s Blues is a mess of overwrought ideas and storylines that Tyler Perry simply isn’t a capable enough filmmaker to weave into an emotionally satisfying journey. But Joshua Boone has one angelic voice, So at least listen to the soundtrack.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com