La La Land and Moonlight are brought together again, but this time it has nothing to do with an Academy Award snafu. Moonlight star André Holland leads La La Land director Damien Chazelle‘s latest project, a Parisian musical drama which hits Netflix this week and also stars Amandla Stenberg.
While Holland turns in a work of art with his performance and the series has a dazzling aesthetic, it spends over half of its eight episodes trying to decide what it wants to accomplish.
Part-family drama, part-crime tale in a multicultural oasis
The series, taking place in several multicultural neighborhoods in Paris, focuses on Elliot Udo (Holland). He was once an acclaimed, New York City-based jazz pianist. For reasons we aren’t entirely clear on other than familial issues, he has relocated to Paris, where he is the co-owner of a struggling jazz club, The Eddy. He is also the manager and the leader of the club’s house band, fronted by his on-again, off-again lover, Maja (Joanna Kulig).
Elliot learns that his co-owner, Farid (Tahar Rahim), may have gotten into trouble with some unsavory business practices in trying to save the club. Just as he figures this out, his teenage daughter, Julie (Stenberg) arrives in town, sent by her mother. Their relationship is strained at best. Elliot’s worlds begin to unravel as he tries to save the club while protecting all of the people he cares about.
Paired with its multicultural atmosphere, dialogue in the series is in both English and French, with the occasional other languages like Arabic. It’s not a super-dramatized and picturesque portrait of Paris. Shot cinéma vérité styles, it is a portrait that is in the streets and in the neighborhoods of the minorities and underrepresented. The series is interested in bringing a more grittier portrayal of the city. The vérité works to the series’ advantage, making you feel as if you are right in the middle of all the hustle, bustle, and action.
Great performances led by a fantastic André Holland
Even when the material goes to less than stellar places, Holland holds it all together and gives a fantastic performance. The Moonlight standout is so electric on-screen, he immediately elevates the series and in most instances goes above and beyond what the role requires.
The character is a frustrating one, mostly because Elliot does not know how to communicate effectively and express himself. But Holland taps directly into these traits of the character and makes something incredibly great.
While Stenberg is super solid here as well and is given a lot to work with for the role of Julie, the writing and pacing do her a disserve for much of the series. It results in what comes off as a frantic and chaotic performance every so often, which isn’t quite a bad thing, albeit jarring at times. Regardless, Julie is one of the most developed and interesting characters in the series and her story is the closest we get to a fully-formed character arc as she comes to understand her father and his world.
Kulig, star of 2018’s acclaimed Polish Oscar contender, Cold War, delivers a compelling yet breezy performance which will make you want to see her in so many more projects. The rest of the main cast is also really great, particularly Leïla Bekhti as Amira, Adil Dehbi as Sim, and Lada Obradovic as Katarina. Rahim is also delightful as Farid, even though his presence in the show is very minimal. And while Holland is the pure standout, Stenberg may be the show’s best scene partner, with very good work when she is paired with Kulig and Bekhti.
Lovely at times but messy and uneven at others
The thing about The Eddy is that it isn’t unclear what exactly it wants to be. As Elliott falls deeper and deeper into the unfortunate schemes that had befallen his late partner, the drama itself never really surfaces. The gang aspect of the series is juxtaposed against the conflict between Elliot and Julie, but both storylines never really reach their heights. Added with the fact that the show moves at a slow-burn pace, sometimes it feels like narratively, we don’t really get anywhere at all at the conclusion of most episodes.
By the show’s end (it is designed and promoted as a limited series) we don’t really get answers about all of the seedy activity that Elliot finds himself in. On the flip side, we only get a little past the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Elliot and Julie. The show doesn’t explain how their relationship got the way that it is at the beginning of the series.
Holland and Stenberg are a dynamic duo and each scene between them is electric. But even then, a lot of their scenes leave so much left to explore, especially when Elliot teaches her about Black history, specifically the history of Black people in France. It is one of The Eddy’s highlights, but it doesn’t go deep at it should. We get a little bit of racism in the city, especially with characters like Farid, Amira, and Sim, who are Muslim. But again, not much is made of it.
Just like several other recent limited series and miniseries, The Eddy structures its episodes to center on one of its characters while still looping together the overall storyline. Oddly enough, the first two episodes, which focus on Elliot and Julie, are by far not the strongest ones. The show doesn’t really settle into a cool groove until around the sixth episode as actual stakes are realized. Then, we get to see the interworkings and development of our characters’ relationships with each other.
The joy is worth the watch
However, what The Eddy falls short of storytelling wise it definitely makes up for in the performances and the filmmaking itself. Chazelle and the other directors he’s tapped brilliantly bring this setting to life. And though most of the show’s plot points are somber and depressing, there is a lot of joy to be found in it as well. The show’s music is wonderful and you’ll find yourself falling in love with Kulig’s warm vocals paired with soothing jazz.
There are lots of bursts of joy, from a surprise musical event following a traditional funeral to a merry parade/walking concert through the streets with onlookers joining in, it’s hard not to be pulled in by it all. Despite how dark it may get at times, the story at The Eddy‘s heart is about these characters making the music they love — no matter all of the obstacles and circumstances that they have to overcome. Particularly during this trying moment we’re in right now, it’s hard to deny the brightness in that.
The Eddy begins streaming May 8 on Netflix.
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