A Jazz Man’s Blues

Where I Watched it: Netflix

Audio Description Provided By: International Digital Center

Written By: Liz Gutman

Narrated By: Sri Gordon

It’s a Tyler Perry film. For those of you who have stumbled onto this review, this website, and are hoping for me to expound upon this project in any sort of way, please remember that I am a white blind film critic. While i believe that there are themes that are universal in every film, and we should always strive to expand our horizons, and I have no problem watching films full of people who are not me (that would be terribly boring), I also cannot ignore the fact that I can’t speak for a community I am not a part of, their experiences, and whether or not this film represents or tells their story. All i can do is break this down from my perspective, and sadly, I’ve never really enjoyed a Tyler Perry directed film.

Here, Perry tries his hand at a lot of heavy subject matter. Instead of being able to attract top tier talent to this film like he has many in the past, he’s assembled a group of character actors and up and comers, all of whom struggle with the heavy thematic material that tends to get lost in a film that seems to defy genre.

At first glance, the story is a simple forbidden romance. A black man and a white girl fall in love during a time when this kind of thing got black men killed. But, there’s another layer, as we know someone dies. Perry opens the film with a more modern set older lady watching TV, and some guy sitting on an interview talking about some topics that directly suggest he’s prejudice at best and racist at worst. This lady then goes to this man, who has some position of power, and gives him some letters and asks him to investigate a murder from 40 years ago. He’s about to trash the letters, but then he starts to read them.

This is when we learn the story of Bayou, who lives in the Deep South, has an abusive drunk father who talks a big game about playing music professionally, so much so that his brother wants to follow in his footsteps. But his mom is the realist, and puts food on the table. Bayou meets a girl, whose cartoonishly Foghorn Leghorn rapist vibes scares him away. later, Bayou gets a paper airplane, and starts meeting this girl in the woods at night. Eventually, stuff happens, this forbidden love is separated, and Bayou moves to Chicago to pursue music, despite never showing an interest prior.

My big problems with the film itself is that it didn’t care. Bayou can’t read at one point, and remarks how everyone thinks he’s slow, but we never learn how quickly he learns to read and write. I guess he wished upon a star? He also never hints at wanting to pursue music until the film needs him to do so. Meanwhile, Perry just makes odd choices. Like, in one scene, Bayou writes a letter about being drafted to war, but because there’s no budget for this film, his next letter is about being wounded and coming home. There’ no war. No training. no fighting. It’s odd that it was even included as it holds no relevance to the plot. The film could have survived without it.

Aside from that, Bayou makes terrible life choices near the end of the film. And, while this might be a spoiler, his subsequent death that the guy is implored to investigate in the future, actually comes pretty fast. He walks right into his own murder, like he accepts his fate is to be murdered, and within seconds we cut to his lynching and people crying over his body. Then, we’re back to the present. We were building up to that moment for two hours, and they rapidly kill him off like his murder was cut for time.

Then, instead of spending much time in the modern era, we get about three minutes and then the movie ends. The people who bookend the film are really only in about 5-7 minutes total of the entire film, with a scene at the beginning and the end, plus one quick check in to show us the guy still reading the letters.. Arguably, the film would have been better not knowing anything about how the film plays out, or that there is a murder, since Perry does very little with anything. he doesn’t even really establish who the woman with the letters was, or how she came to possess them.

Audio description wise, Liz Gutman, who dominates the business in terms of the amount of writing she does, felt the need to go with skin tones here. That worked against the film, as white characters were described as light skinned, and I didn’t even immediately pick up on the interracial conflict part of the film until it becomes obvious within the plot. She’s just described as light skinned. usually, white characters are never defined, and always defaulted, with POC being the ones needing description. However, in a Tyler Perry film, the cast is predominantly black, so it’s easier to let us know who among the cast isn’t. Just be up front. We know we are watching a story with a black protagonist, and thus his family is comprised of likely the same. When he meets characters not in his family, then we can learn the importance of the difference in these characters skin colors. And it is important for this film, as this films plot is centric around race, racism, and reaction to seeing an interracial couple.

I wish I could say I enjoyed the film, but I just didn’t. once again, Tyler Perry is his own worst enemy. Although, the musician who scored the film comes a close second, as the score always seems meant for another film when it isn’t leaning heavily on jazz or blues. There’s this odd somewhat lilting Forrest Gump sounding soundtrack that plays in parts that is so out of place. Most scores compliment, and many you don’t even realize you noticed, because they just underscore so well. This I actually noticed for all the wrong reasons.

Sorry, but I’m gonna have to pass on what should ahve been a remarkable effort from Perry.

Final Grade: C-

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