Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Rotten Tomatoes
Showtimes & Tickets
Enter Zip Code:

Jason Palmer & Desiree Garcia in GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH (Photo: Variance Films)

Written & Directed by Damien Chazelle
Produced by
Jasmine McGlade & Mihai Dinulescu
Released by Variance Films
USA. 82 min. Not Rated
Jason Palmer, Desiree Garcia, Sandha Khin, Frank Garvin, Andrew Hayward & Alma Prelec

With marvelous use of its Boston setting, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench could be called the first mumblecore musical, but it’s also a love affair with several movie genres. The plot is familiar from many contemporary, micro-budget romances: boy’s memory flashes back to meeting girl, and then they break up. Each has another flitting romance, but maybe, just maybe, they’ll get back together.

The boy, Guy, a jazz trumpeter, is played by the very talented jazz trumpeter Jason Palmer. His scenes are shot in early 1960’s New Wave style, like a tribute to Arthur Penn’s jazzy Mickey One (1965). The girl is Madeline (Desiree Garcia). When focused on her, the film turns into a 1950’s MGM musical, albeit in black and white. (Garcia’s day job is an academic who teaches about movie musicals.)

Enchanting song-and-dance numbers burst onto the screen as full-fledged musical tours de force—Madeline works at the Summer Shack Restaurant, and her breaking out into “The Boy in the Park,” on the counters is the stand-out. Recorded by the glorious 90-piece Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, the catchy tunes are by Justin Hurwitz and the lyrics by writer/director Damien Chazelle. The tap dance choreography of Kelly Kaleta (who also dances in a couple of the numbers) leaves the music video bump and grind of so much of movie and TV dancing these days in its sparkling dust. (Boston tap doyenne Julia Boynton was the dance consultant.)

The energy, talent, and youthful exuberance on display in the five lively musical numbers make the expository, typical mumblecore scenes in-between that much more boring. Though Guy’s flirtation with Elena (Sandha Khin) in Boston and Madeline’s with Paul (Bernard Chazelle, the director’s father) in New York City are occasionally charming, too many clichés of student filmmaking drag down these scenes, made more pretentious in the black-and-white cinematography (this started out as a Harvard senior thesis). Though the director is proud to tout that many of these scenes were intentionally shot to have a documentary feel, the first-time actors, who seem magical when they are singing, dancing, or making music, fall to earth with a dud, like reality TV stars with no talent for improvisation or dying squibs amidst a rich fireworks display.

While there have been occasional small-scale, intimate movies with songs recently, including Richard Wong’s Colma and John Carney’s Once (both 2006), Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is more a joyous love letter to the heyday of movie musicals, interrupted by realism. Fans of Glee should merrily give this little-indie-musical-that-could a chance, to give the genre a lease on life for the future. Nora Lee Mandel
November 5, 2010



Archive of Previous Reviews

Contact us