Tyler Perry's first written screenplay finally arrives in A Jazzman's Blues on Netflix. Over the last twenty-seven years, Perry has tried to get the film made. As the director wrote the first script in 1995, he envisioned himself as Bayou alongside Will Smith and Halle Berry as secondary leads. The three may have been great in the lead roles, but I'm glad they aged out.
Perry begins his latest film in 1987 amid a televised interview with a bigoted governor. Hattie Mae (Amirah Vann) visits him at work in response to the crude rhetoric broadcast on her TV. The goal is to find someone who can investigate the 1947 death of a woman. In aid of her mission, she also has letters from 1937 about her son Bayou (Joshua Boone), who has fallen in love with a neighbor girl, Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer), despite her family's objections. Although the couple continues to meet secretly, they ultimately separate, leaving Bayou to deal with the stresses of family life, especially his troubled musician brother, Willie Earl (Austin Scott).
Ten years later, Bayou returns to Georgia, searching for himself after serving in World War II. Nevertheless, he re-acquaints himself with Leanne, a lighter-skinned woman accepted by white society because of her lighter skin tone. Although she is now married to a politician, Bayou still pines for the woman he used to love, which prompts him to maintain contact with her. Will they live happily ever after?
A Jazzman's Blues is Perry at his best and set to a soaring jazz score by Terrence Blanchard. I've been overly critical of Perry in the past, but honestly, I realized he caters to a niche audience. I like Perry's work when Madea isn't involved, so A JazzMan's Blues was a good fit for me. A unique aspect of the film is Perry's handling of the musical numbers. Several great scenes take place in juke joints and whites-only clubs. Intentional or not, Perry's fusion of styles works.
The use of semi-unknown actors is also laudable. Solea Pfeiffer and Joshua Boone are both good in the lead roles, which should open more doors for them. I was more invested in the characters' motivations than I would have been if more famous faces were in the film. I was told by a fellow film critic that many of the actors have stage backgrounds. There were two actors I recognized, Ryan Eggold and Roger Mitchell.
Egold portrays Ira, Bayou, and Willie's German music manager. He delivers a moving monologue about his experiences with the Nazis. Although some may find it cheap, I thought it reflected Bayou's experiences with white society. With just the right amount of venomous disdain, E. Roger Mitchell plays Bayou's father. A Jazzman's Blues isn't without its flaws, however. Thankfully neither boom mics nor bad wigs are visible. But I will say the twist is obvious even to novice moviegoers, and the ending falls flat.
A JazzMan's Blues isn't as groundbreaking or as an award contender as Perry clearly wants. Nevertheless, the musical numbers are exceptional, and some stellar performances elevate the material.
Final Grade: B
A JazzMan's Blues is available to stream on Netflix now at www.netflix.com/ajazzmansblues