Equally nostalgic and fresh-faced, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is a bohemian musical that owes as much to Cassavetes Shadows as it does the French musicals of the '30s. The story of a post-graduate student and a jazz trumpeter in Boston, Guy and Madeline skates over its characters and their exchanges with interjected moments of naturalistic song and dance. Box office can't be big for charmers of this variety, their inborn intimacy guards against it, but for those inclined towards discovery; it's an imperfect gem.
Guy (Jason Palmer) and Madeline (Desiree Garcia) were lovers. They part ways on the park bench mentioned in the title in the film's early moments. Quickly, Madeline grows restless and moves to New York to work on her dissertation; she gets jobs waiting tables and meets other people but still seems directionless. Guy meets a Elena (Sandha Khin) who's eager to move in and rejects her dismissively at every opportunity. Each doles out tiny cruelties to their prospective new mates and all are harshly felt: when a Guy-look-alike follows Madeline around like a puppy she does all she can to make him go away, and during a surprisingly invasive shower scene, Guy tells his new girlfriend the whole of his family is coming to town and she's not invited. These aren't accidental cruelties but they're not pre-programmed either. A conversation with a friend gets Guy explaining that he thinks he's moving in with this girl because her bed is in his place. The forwardness this action suggests is threatening but also seems like responsibility is going unmentioned. For a bit you wonder what Guy and Madeline saw in each other, but in flashes you see they're somehow, similarly unmoored. Madeline went to New York to finish her dissertation but it doesn't seem to materialize. In a darling, low-rent dance number in her restaurant, she sings of a boy she kissed in the park. We didn't see the boy she kissed, we can assume it's Guy, but isn't the point rather that these things they do (the social flux, the post-grad study) are a kind of temporary holding zone before reality sets in? They're in a cherished and often derided period in development where they can kind of lounge in between worlds: for a while the fantasies of the future are everything and in other moments we suffer the toil of unfulfilling (but nonetheless pushy) bosses and girlfriends? Post-collegiate life is a tough limbo, but according to this film, it's also a song.
Technicals are lovingly spare. The newness of jazz buoys Guy and Madeline, and the improvisation and lightness of the music filters into so much: the camera work, the exchanges, even the scrappy acting which lends an appropriate roughness to the proceedings. Some moments drag but that hardly seems a crime in a film so determined to show this rough and sweet patch of adulthood as this. While no happy endings are promised in this limbo, the strivings that lead to the end are certainly educational.
Cast: Jason Palmer, Desiree Garcia and Sandha Khin
Director/Screenwriter: Damien Chazelle
Producer: Damien Chazelle and Jasmine McGlade Chazelle
Running time: 82 min
Release date: November 5 NY, December 10 LA