It would be easy to walk past The Eddy without a second thought, a basement jazz club in a down at heel Parisian suburb. There’s just a blank wall, a sign and underneath it an open door. Certainly nothing connecting it to the usual definition of the word, a movement of water causing a whirlpool. But, inside, all that anonymity fades away to reveal an ever-present musical energy and the complexities of the relationships between the owners, the musicians and everybody surrounding them. A whirlpool of its own.
That, at least, is the intention of Damien Chazelle’s eight part series for Netflix and his first venture away from the big screen. After the impact of Whiplash and La La Land, his name on a project instantly creates interest and excitement and here he serves as executive producer, as well as directing the first two episodes. Each of them concentrates on a specific character connected to the house band, with the first putting Elliott (Moonlight’s Andre Holland) in the spotlight and the second shifting the attention to his daughter, Julie (Amandla Stenberg). A one-time successful musician in his own right in New York, he’s swopped his old life for managing The Eddy in Paris and rarely plays his piano or trumpet in public, even though he’s perhaps the club’s biggest draw. Coming a close second is its band, fronted by singer Maja (Joanna Kulig) and it’s down to Elliott to deal with the ups and downs of managing the club, the band and his own life.
The first episode is set in familiar cinematic Chazelle territory – his beloved jazz, the brisk pace, the close ups, the handheld camera work – but there are differences. The editing has lost some of its crispness, the pace may be brisk but it doesn’t fizz and there’s an overall downbeat tone to proceedings. The criminal sub-plot is little more than a sketch in this instalment, so it can only be hoped that it’s fleshed out into something more satisfying than just a couple of Eastern European thugs as the series goes on. But on the plus side, it’s nigh-on impossible to sit still in your seat while the music is playing. While it’s the club’s raison d’etre, it also merges seamlessly into the film’s soundtrack, as well as offering something different, such as a cool rap/jazz fusion band.
Chazelle hasn’t gone for an A list cast, but he’s certainly gone for quality. Andre Holland is stressed, restless and constantly on edge as the manager struggling to balance the club with his private life and his past. Conversely, Joanna Kulig is a calmer, if heartbroken, presence as yet another jazz singer, one that echoes her characters in 2018’s Cold War. Stirring things up as Elliott’s teenage daughter is Amandla Stenberg, building on her promise from The Hate U Give with an impressive portrayal of a girl trying to re-connect with her father and find her place in a world where she feels like the oddity, the misfit.
Last week’s featurette about the film digs deeper into the importance of its music and how it’s played live on screen. It is essentially the glue that holds the series together, to the extent that the chorus of one of a recurring song is actually the club’s name. The band, who were brought together specifically for the movie, create a wonderful sound but, after the first episode, the narrative, the atmosphere and the tone have yet to catch up. It has seven episodes in which to do it, but needs to do it in a lot less.
Drama, Mini-series | Netflix, 8 May 2020 | Netflix | Dirs. Damien Chazelle, Houda Benyamina, Laila Marrakchi, Alan Poul | Andre Holland, Joanna Kulig, Amandla Stenberg, Tahar Rahim.