Brilliant Debut by Director Damien Chazelle Deconstructs a Failed Romance
Desiree Garcia is Melancholy Madeline, who sits alone freezing on a park bench in Boston. She is sad and contemplating what just happened after being dumped by her boyfriend on a chilly, wintry day. Meanwhile, Jason Palmer, as Guy, her equally-wistful ex, trudges home through the snow with his trumpet slung lazily over his shoulder.
He arrives home at his apartment, he removes from the wall a picture of the two of them in much happier times.
So starts Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. It is an intriguing flashback flick that deconstructs the demise of a young couple’s troubled relationship.
This picture received rave reviews a year ago on the festival circuit. Now it is starting to show up in theaters. The delay might be explained by the colorblind casting featuring an African-American opposite a Latina in the title roles, both of whom display an enviable versatility while each producing a powerful performance.
Guy is an accomplished jazz trumpeter. Downbeat Magazine recognizes him as an up-and-comer. Triple threat Desiree Garcia is formidable in her own right, handling her acting, singing and dancing duties with perfect aplomb.
This movie is the writing and directorial debut of Damien Chazelle, a gifted wunderkind to be reckoned with, and a recent Harvard graduate. With an amazing effortlessness, Chazelle exhibits an encyclopedic knowledge of cinematic history, interweaving a dizzying number of allusions to the work of his idols behind the camera, legends like John Cassavetes, Jean-Luc Godard and Busby Berkeley.
As engaging as the picture’s premise are its original score by Justin Hurwitz and its shadowy cinematography coming courtesy of seductively-grainy, black & white 16mm film. The movie’s magical musical renditions, a delightful blend of jazz and show tunes, range from impromptu improvisations to catchy, carefully-choreographed song and dance numbers.
If all of the above isn’t enough to whet your curiosity, consider the plot which complicates into a compelling love triangle when Guy’s head is turned by flaky temptress Elena (Sandha Khin) while riding the subway. Like a black version of Woody Allen, Guy develops existential angst over his ensuing girl troubles, the difference being that he finds solace playing his instrument instead of kvetching about his feelings to a shrink.
Overall, the vaguely-familiar production has the retro look and feel of a casually-staged, New Wave classic from the Fifties, except that no French is spoken, unless the evocative lyrics of a haunting ballad count. Ultimately, there’s no mistaking this impossible to pigeonhole adventure for an unearthed relic from a bygone era, given such unmistakably-modern moments as when Elena responds to a solicitous stranger’s pickup line with a resolutely-salty expletive.
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is a tribute befitting Boston. It is readily comparable to Woody Allen’s bittersweet homage to Manhattan!
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 82 minutes
Studio: Variance Films