I’ve always been more a fan of Tyler Perry’s philanthropy than his movies, but when not churning out the umpteenth Madea flick, he would occasionally do sly acting gigs like showing up in Gone Girl. Here, with A Jazzman’s Blues, he’s made something quite surprising and special, an earnest yet evocative old-fashioned melodrama. It’s something that was clearly a labor of love and long in the works, but let’s hope it’s the first of a re-branding for the writer-director, who is clearly capable of staging these throwback dramas that harken to the golden era of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Perry could be faulted for playing it all a little flat in the writing and directing department, but let’s give credit where credit is due. Taking place mostly in the Spanish moss-strewn Georgia of the 1930’s and 1940’s (with a brief stylish sojourn to Chicago for some smashing song-and-dance numbers), the film is handsomely mounted with impeccable costumes and cinematography. The tale of tragic star-crossed lovers torn apart in equal parts by hateful institutional racism and their own dysfunctional families lends itself well to Perry’s theatrical staging sensibilities and flashy performances that seethe as much in their quietness as they do in their bombast. Then, of course, the film’s showcase is the music from deep-down roiling Southern Blues to Nat King Cole style jazz standards.
Sure, you can nitpick some of the finer points of the storytelling (especially some character motivations) but Perry aims to both entertain and make you think, and on both grounds he has succeeded. If you love a good melodrama and love the blues, look and listen no further and watch it on Netflix now.