Tyler Perry Jazman Blues She has it all, some things in such enormous quantities that they might be too much: forbidden love, drug abuse, hints of incest, a black woman driven to death by her scheming mother, complicated relationships between women who have every reason to resent one another, and a helping character. The mom who handles the laundry brings the kids into the world and runs the juke hoppin’ joint. You may have to turn the movie off every now and then just to catch your breath.
But Berry’s vision is welcome in a world where very few filmmakers would risk the opportunity to make old-fashioned melodramas, even one that also explores, as he does, some of its haunting historical underpinnings. Jazman Blues Spanning 50 Years: Opened in Hopewell, Georgia, in 1987, it follows key events in the lives of its characters, with a major focus on a shy young man named Bayou (played by magician Joshua Boone), a country child, circa 1937, who falls in love with a local beauty. Leanne (Sulia Pfeiffer), a young woman who is strictly monitored by her grandfather. Bayou’s home life is also turbulent. He is despised by his father, Buster (E. Roger Mitchell), a musician who is overconfident in his gifts, preferring his eldest son Willie Earl (Austin Scott), who has learned to play the trumpet faithfully to please Buster. Bayou has a beautiful singing voice, which he inherited from his mother, Hattie Mae (Princess of Fan, in a taut and subtle performance), a hardworking and sensible woman who does her best to protect Bayou from the bullying of Buster and Willie Earl, risking Buster’s wrath and abuse. .
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Bayou and Lin find solace in each other, and meet secretly at night. (She spits a kite through his window as a sign, a romantic idea that finds a nice echo later in the movie.) When she learns that Bayo can’t read, she teaches him; They plan to run together. But circumstances separate them. Fast forward to 1947: Bayou and Hattie Mai left their country home and now live in the town of Hopewell, where Hattie Mai runs a hugely successful nightclub. (She sings there, beautifully, every night, in addition to the regular gigs for midwifery and laundry.) Bayou leaves Hopewell for Chicago, where he finds great success as a singer at a luxury club open to white patrons only. On stage, he is supported by an orchestra – one of its members is his brother, who is resentful – and he is surrounded by wonderful dancers. But it is Leanne’s love that haunts him, and he will do anything to get her back.
This is barely even a quarter of what happens in Jazman Blues. Perry has been hoping to make this movie for over 25 years—a conversation with August Wilson was an early inspiration—and he’s not holding back. This is an ambitious, handsome-looking portrait that strives to capture the essence of life in the mid-20th century Deep South in a way that makes Movie Meaning, without exaggerating the romance. In this world, white people are the ones who hold all the cards, and pose the biggest threat. But Berry also allows us to enjoy both the luxury of a Chicago nightclub and the bolder vibe and blues of a jock hattie mai joint. In Chicago, Bayou offers a racy read “I’ve Got Bad (And That’s Not Good)”; At his Hopewell home, he took to the podium to join Hattie Mae in a rolling version of Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor. (Featured songs arranged and produced by Terence Blanchard.) Berry does not offer one place or one way to sing better than another; Both are outlets for joy and freedom of self-expression.
Perry may not always have complete control over the film’s tone: There’s a moment of real-life, rambling horror that he first alludes to, effectively, and then directly exposes it, a choice that temporarily upsets the film. Whether the image is basic or unnecessarily shocking is up to the viewer, but Perry wants to be sure to grab our attention, and he does. And there are a few options that require excessive commentary of disbelief: the old versions of some characters don’t look at all like the previous ones. However, Berry is generally consistent with what works on screen and what makes for a good story. And sometimes it’s the old school skills that need the most revival.
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