Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench Review

Damien Chazelle’s debut feels somewhere between a Jim Jarmusch indie and an Astaire-Roger musical. Here’s a filmmaker with a deep love of the movie musical trying to make it work on a shoestring budget. The musical genre begs for rich production, so Chazelle tries to circumvent it with a nontraditional script; the central relationship is told in undefined fragments and almost exclusively in the less-sexy aftermath of their love. The musical elements are instead used as flourishes – sometimes daydreams, sometimes as breaks from the story. It’s a mess, but one with its charms.

Chazelle’s directorial strength is in detail shots and closeups that evoke a tenderness and the vulnerability of the characters. The film excels in these little character moments far more than it does in telling a complete story. Despite Chazelle’s decision not to build the characters from the ground up, every so often he strikes a deeply familiar chord with just a few well-executed shots that it becomes possible to connect to Guy, Madeline and Elena’s emotions.

The centerpiece of the film though is Justin Hurwitz’s score, which feels timeless yet not overly cliche and predictable. The quality of the music, including what was presumably Jason Palmer’s (Guy) own trumpet playing, puts the score in a class that the movie’s visual quality can’t keep up with to the point that you might assume Chazelle just purchased or borrowed professional music.

It’s always nice to see how a now-esteemed director pulled together a project with minimal resources. Chazelle wanted to tell a love story that married jazz and musicals and he finds a way to do it, even if the finished project is rough around the edges and a little defiant of mainstream tastes.


3/5 Stars

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
Written and Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring: Desiree Garcia, Jason Palmer, Sandha Khin


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