An epic, tragic romance is probably the last thing you expect from Tyler Perry, a filmmaker best known for donning a gray-haired wig, padded bra, and floral dress. But Perry’s last film, The blues of a jazzman—which started streaming on Netflix today – is about as opposite of Madea as it gets. If you thought Notebook made you cry, watch out. Tyler Perry is coming for the Nicholas Sparks crown.
An original screenplay by Perry – the first screenplay he ever wrote, in fact, in 1995 –The blues of a jazzman is a grand love story set in the Deep South of the 1930s and 1940s. A young black man named Bayou (played by newcomer Joshua Boone) falls head over heels in love with a fair-skinned girl named LeAnne (Solea Pfeiffer Everyone calls LeAnne “Bucket,” a mean nickname that refers to how she was abandoned by her mother like “an empty bucket” to live with her grandfather, who routinely rapes and abuses her.
Bayou and LeAnne fall for each other fast and hard, making plans to one day run away together. But the affair is abruptly cut short when LeAnne’s mother suddenly returns to take her up north, leaving her no choice in the matter. Bayou writes to her every day, but Mom makes sure all letters are returned to sender. By the time Bayou sees LeeAnne again, she has assumed a new identity as a white woman and is engaged to a wealthy white politician.
Without getting into spoilers, Bayou and LeAnne seem to have the whole world working against them, despite their love. It’s a vibe very similar to the doomed romance in Notebook– the 2005 film adapted from the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks – but unlike Noah and Allie, the stakes for these two star-crossed lovers are literally life or death. It’s not just the timing and circumstances that separate Bayou and LeAnne, it’s racism. This includes the literal segregation laws to the tacit agreement that any black man who touches a white woman will be lynched.
As LeeAnne sinks into the lie she never wanted for herself, Bayou pursues a career as a jazz singer in Chicago. You support them, especially Bayou, who is played by Boone with a compelling mix of serious goodness and unwavering courage. But difficulties and injustices continue to accumulate. You won’t be surprised if this love story doesn’t end well, but that doesn’t make it any less overwhelming. This is not a movie that will leave you with a smile on your face.
In an interview for the jazz blues press notes, Perry, who wrote and directed the film, addressed the tragic nature of its story. “Some people who saw it said to me, ‘It’s a love story, but it’s so tragic.’ And I would explain to them, ‘Well, for us as black people in America, a lot of our love affairs in those days were tragic. We didn’t have the option to run away and live happily ever after. There were a lot of things that we had to overcome. So I don’t want to water down our history or take it away because I think it’s very important that we remember it and recognize it and understand it.
Later in the interview he added: “The story and the passion of these people. And even though it’s a fictional movie to figure out that these people actually existed, these struggles were common, these things actually happened.
Maybe that’s what makes The blue of a jazzman hit even harder than a movie like Notebook. You’ll walk away feeling like that pain was all too real.