Film Review: A Jazzman’s Blues (dir by Tyler Perry)

In 1987, a wealthy white attorney is running for Congress in Georgia.  After watching an interview in which he attacks affirmative action programs, an elderly black woman named Hattie Mae (Amirah Vann) collects a stack of old letters and drops them off at the attorney’s office.  As the attorney reads the letters, he learns the truth about his past.

That’s the opening of Tyler Perry’s latest Netflix film, A Jazzman’s Blues.  The rest of the film is largely set in Georgia in the 30s and the 40s.  Hattie Mae is the mother of two sons, Bayou (Joshua Boone) and Willie Earl (Austin Scott).  Bayou is shy, innocent, and naïve.  He has a wonderful singing voice but no one takes him seriously.  Willie Earl is egotistical and temperamental.  Because he can play the trumpet, Willie Earl is his father’s favorite.  When Willie Earl and his father leave to seek fame in Chicago, Bayou remains in Georgia with his mother.

He also falls in love with Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer), who everyone calls “Bucket” because her mother abandoned her in a used bucket.  Leanne teaches Bayou to read.  Bayou tries to protect Leanne from he abusive grandfather.  Eventually, though, Leanne leaves Georgia.  Years later, she returns as the wife of the local sheriff’s political ambitious brother.  Leanne is now passing as white but Bayou still loves her.  Leanne’s mother, who is now back in the picture, lies to the sheriff and says that Bayou whistled at Leanne.  Bayou is forced to flee Georgia.  He ends up in Chicago, performing with Wille Earl, who is now junkie.

In Chicago, Bayou becomes a star while Wille Earl plays in his brother’s band.  Willie Earl grows jealous of his brother’s success.  When Bayou learns that Leanne has had a son and that he’s probably the father, Bayou makes plans to return to Georgia for a one-night performance.  Tragically, this provides Willie Earl with his opportunity to seek revenge….

Based on the first script that Tyler Perry ever wrote, A Jazzman’s Blues looks and feels like a real movie.  Netflix actually invested some money in this film and that alone represents a step up from Perry’s previous Netflix film.  Visually, the film does a good job contrasting the lushness of rural Georgia with the harshness of Chicago and the scenes in which Bayou performs in Capital Royale club are particularly well-shot.  Joshua Boone may not be the most expressive actor in the world but he’s got a great voice.  That said, this is still a Tyler Perry film and the story is still both melodramatic and predictable.  The framing device of the attorney reading the letters is rather clumsily handled and you’ll be able to guess the identity of the attorney long before the end credits roll.

The main problem with the film, to be honest, is that Willie Earl is a far more intriguing character than Bayou.  Willie Earl’s story is the interesting one and, as the film comes to a close, you find yourself wondering what Willie Earl did with the rest of his life.  Unfortunately, Perry doesn’t tell you or provide any hints.  His script uses Willie Earl as a dramatic device (and as an excuse to indulge in a bit of biblical allegory) but Austin Scott gives such a strong performance in the role that he takes over any scene in which he appears.  Can there be redemption for Willie Earl or is he doomed to spend the rest of his life in denial?  Does he regret his actions or is he so blinded by jealousy and hatred that he can justify the worst possible betrayal?  It’s the most interesting question that the film leaves us with but Perry doesn’t seem to realize that.

In the end, A Jazzman’s Blues indicates that, with the right resources, Tyler Perry can direct a real film.  But perhaps he should collaborate with another screenwriter.  A Jazzman’s Blues is not a bad film but it’s hard not to feel that Perry missed an opportunity to make it even better.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.