Damien Chazelle really loves Jazz. The director’s filmography so many projects with the musical genre, its become a bit of a punch-line. Despite that, it’s hard to argue with the Oscar-winning director’s results. With three above-average to masterpiece level films in his career, Chazelle has the makings of a once-in-a-generation filmmaker. That made his latest project, “The Eddy,” a strangely interesting choice. Chazelle produces and directs the first two episodes of the limited series about a former Jazz virtuoso running a Parisian club. Written by Jack Thorne (“Wonder“) and conceptualized by Glen Ballard, “The Eddy” combines French New Wave and a melting pot cast to create a series unlike anything on television today. Anchored by brilliant performances from André Holland and Joanna Kulig, “The Eddy” is one of the best shows of 2020.
Ex-pat jazz musician Elliot Udo (Holland) runs a nightclub in Paris. He writes music for the house band but refuses to play after the death of his son. Maja (Joanna Kulig) leads the band as its vocalist and has an unstable relationship with Elliot. Elliot’s best friend and business partner Farid (Tahar Rahim) runs the operation side of the club. Elliot lives an idyllic existence away from his old life when his daughter Julie (Amandla Sternberg) comes to Paris. When tragedy strikes at the club, Elliot becomes involved in a runaway story of violence, trauma, and jazz.
Thorne brilliantly captures the uniquely multicultural Paris, combining the seemingly disparate culture through the universality of music. The extremely strong screenplays give Chazelle and the directing team the ability to tell deeply personal, yet culturally specific tales of struggle and tragedy. “The Eddy” thrives because of its writing, which services a large ensemble of established talent and future stars. Visualized stylized like a New Wave gumshoe story, veteran directors Houda Benyamina, Laïla Marrakchi, Alan Poul, and Chazelle craft a tactile and specific world.
Holland once again proves his immense talent as the tortured Elliot. Few actors can bring an air or lingering melancholy to the screen while maintaining their charisma. For Holland, this ability seemingly comes naturally. Haunted by his past but fearful for his future, Holland brings an erraticism and mania needed to the role. You’ll question his character’s decision making, but for someone running away from the world, Holland makes Elliot sympathetic in his quest to hold onto the few things that matter to him.
Holland receives considerable support from the ensemble. Kulig proves that “Cold War” was far from a fluke, matching Holland’s intensity and skill. She gets to put together the full package here, delivering soaring ballads, small moments of joy, and well-earned outbursts of frustration. The chemistry with Holland is palpable and the two discover something special in their volcanic eruptions at each other. A veteran of French cinema, Leïla Bekhti (“A Prophet“) will turn heads in her grief-stricken role. She must raise her family and find a sense of normalcy after the tragedy. Bekhit carries herself with poise and grace, yet flashes a hardness when needed.
Sternberg also shines as a teen trying to make sense of the immense trauma that lingers over her family. Her methods of coping are rarely healthy, but Sternberg conveys her anger and depression with heart. Sternberg continues her rise to superstardom and proves she can hold the screen with some of the best performers in the world.
Adil Dehbi shines as Sim, a young Arabic man living with his grandmother. Working at the club and trying to breakthrough in his own right, Dehbi conveys a hunger to better his life in any way possible. Drawing from immigrant narratives, and layering in true compassion, Dehbi steals the series for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. That’s the mark of a future star, and it is hard to imagine the series without his brilliant turn.
“The Eddy” lives in its musical influence. The original music from Ballard and Randy Kerber (who also acts as Randy the Piano player in the band) takes center stage on multiple occasions throughout the series. Like the characters, the music cannot be contained to a single language, and shifts depending on what musically fits the story. With top-tier performances on the instruments, the soundscape comes alive. The directorial team pushes in on the musical breakdowns, which often come in montages with deep character moments. With how the sequences are shot, the musical influence immerses the audience in the culture of Paris.
For some, “The Eddy” will feel self-indulgent and slow. The pacing feels deliberate, but there are sequences that come across as repetitive for the sake of it. Holland ends up in a police station more than once, and that storyline could be ushered along. However, the episodes are not terribly long, and those versed with French cinema will likely feel at-home. Yet the pacing issues almost always accompany deeply personal and specific moments for the characters. While this may cause some to step away, its clear the filmmakers prioritized character development over the crime story looming in the background.
While Chazelle will draw the lions share of interest to the project, “The Eddy” stands on its own. Holland’s brilliant internal performance deserves recognition, and the ensemble is not far behind. “The Eddy” represents a new kind of storytelling that should be taking place and it was wise of Netflix to shepherd this project along. Unapologetic of its influences and world-building, “The Eddy” earns its place among the best series of 2020.
Will you be watching “The Eddy?” Let us know in the comments below!