Amandla Stenberg is best known as the lead of The Hate U Give.
Amandla Stenberg is best known as the lead of The Hate U Give.

Ambitious Netflix show will be divisive

Oozing with a cool jazz soundtrack and a cinema verite style, Netflix's eight-part miniseries The Eddy is the Oscar-winning director of La La Land and Whiplash Damien Chazelle's first foray into TV.

Chazelle is an executive producer on The Eddy and directed the first two episodes, establishing the show's visual style, but he isn't the one who created it. That honour goes to Jack Thorne (His Dark Materials, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child).

But Chazelle's sensibilities are all over the screen, from the sticky character dynamics to the live-or-die lionisation of live music. You feel it in the series' rhythm, in its beat, pulsing in its urgency to exist.

Which also means that The Eddy is not going to be for everyone - Chazelle certainly has his share of detractors who sometimes finds his work pretentious or unwatchable.

The Eddy, with its contradictorily leisurely yet frenetic pacing, stretches of time spent gazing at a jazz band and Cassavetes-esque faux-improvisational vibe, is unlikely to win over the naysayers.

Like Chazelle's La La Land and First Man, The Eddy will likely divide.

The Eddy features great performances from Andre Holland and Joanna Kulig. Picture: Lou Faulon/Netflix via AP
The Eddy features great performances from Andre Holland and Joanna Kulig. Picture: Lou Faulon/Netflix via AP

But there is an allure to The Eddy - you just have to be in the right mood. And you have to give yourself over to it or you may find your attention wandering all too easily.

Moonlight's Andre Holland plays a famed jazz pianist named Elliot Udo. Elliot quit and moved from New York to Paris some years ago after a family tragedy.

He teams up with Farid (Tahar Rahim) and together they run The Eddy, a jazz club whose house band is also called The Eddy.

The club is struggling on the financial side and the band is struggling on the creative side. Elliot is the band leader but he doesn't play. Instead he's trying to get the band to be better than their frequent "off-nights".

For him, the band and the club are, in his words, all that he has.

The lead singer Maja is played by the enchanting Joanna Kulig, a Polish actor whose most well-known international role so far was in Pawel Pawlikowkski's Cold War. Like in Cold War, when Kulig gets behind that microphone - her smooth, seductive voice ringing through your ears - it's hypnotic.

 

There’s an effective father-daughter relationship in the series.
There’s an effective father-daughter relationship in the series.

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When Elliot's 16-year-old daughter Julie (Amandla Stenberg) arrives, her timing coincides with an event involving Farid's shady deals with some violent gangsters.

Essentially, there are three interwoven stories in The Eddy - his ambitions for the band and trying to keep the club afloat, his strained relationship with his daughter and a crime drama in which Elliot thinks he's been followed by large men.

When The Eddy sings, it's in those character portraits - and each episode is focused on a different character including Julie, Farid's wife Amira (Leila Bekhti), Maja, bartender Sim (Adil Dehbi) and more.

Through these characters and their experiences of a Paris that isn't just postcard shots of the Eiffel Tower and walking through the Tuileries, it's diverse, it's raw and it's real.

 

The Eddy can feel overindulgent but its character work is compelling. Picture: Roger Do Minh/Netflix via AP
The Eddy can feel overindulgent but its character work is compelling. Picture: Roger Do Minh/Netflix via AP

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Perhaps it's the Parisian setting, because there are elements of French New Wave in The Eddy in how it often feels loose and effortless, but like jazz, what appears improvisational is actually disciplined. That tautness and structure around those characters is what moves it along, not the crime subplot which is a distraction.

The Eddy isn't without flaws and it often feels overindulgent, but on balance, there is much to recommend it, including the music by Glen Ballard and Randy Kerber.

For Netflix, a series like The Eddy is a calling card, it's a statement that for all of its mindless blockbusters, supernatural teen dramas and tacky, lascivious reality TV shows, the streaming service wants the cachet that comes attached with ambitious, arthouse projects that are not easily classified and probably won't be widely watched.

But what it will do is lend it credibility and it will attract other high-profile filmmakers. So it can continue to make Adam Sandler movies and still have a foot in film culture.

The Eddy starts streaming on Netflix from Friday, May 8 at 5pm AEST

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Originally published as Ambitious Netflix show will be divisive