Thursday, November 4, 2010

GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH hits theaters. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Perhaps one must be a jazz-lover to best appreciate the film finally making its theatrical debut this week, GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH -- one of those movies which, for the past year or so, was said to be among the as-yet unreleased films that most deserved the chance to be seen. Well, it's here at last, and we can judge for ourselves. When TrustMovies heard that G&M on a PB was a musical, to boot, he became extremely excited, as visions of something Jacques Demy-ish began to dance in his head. 'Fraid not, folks. To TM's taste, this is one of the biggest yawns of the movie year.

I'll go back to that jazz-lover reference above, which I suspect may have to do with how resistible I find this film.  I've never "cottened" much to jazz in its purer form, maybe because it is too improvisational for my taste, too off-the-cuff, raw, even sloppy. The film's lead character, Guy, played by Jason Palmer, is an up-and-coming jazz musician, and the film's director's (Damien Chazelle, shown at left) must have a huge love for this musical genre, for his entire film has a looseness and improvisational feel that smacks of jazz.

My biggest problem with G&M on a PB is that I didn't care a fig for any of its lead characters. There are three of these: Guy, his early and later girlfriend Madeline (Desiree Garcia), and another girl (Sandha Khin, shown below) who inserts herself into Guy's life for a time. They seem to spend most of the movie on automatic pilot, moving from event to event without much interest and little dedication. This may very well be believable in "real life" but it can be deadly to movies, and it certainly is here, unless you're willing to fill in all the blanks -- performance, dialog, even direction -- yourself.

The music may provide the biggest clue to how the fillm is perceived. I found it ordinary to a fault. But for all I know it may be great "jazz." At the finale, one character plays a song to another. What are we to think of this, my companion and I wondered?  Is it supposed to be good? Bad? Indifferent? And what does this mean?  Does either character involved care? And how are we to tell -- since the actors on view seem to prefer the inexpressive mode?

Throughout, the music seems paltry, and the musical "numbers" tiresome. The one big song-and-dance piece set in a restaurant is near embarrassing in its amateurish look, feel and sound. This sort of thing has been done so much better (Demy, again) that, in the case of this particular song, my non-appreciation for jazz does not even come into play.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is unusual enough, however, that I must suggest you think twice before pasing it up. My predilections may be blinding me to its low-key "brilliance," though I doubt this. I suspect this movie tends to divide audiences rather thoroughly, and in fact, this is what one of its publicists conveyed to me. So unless you find yourself fully agreeing with much that I've said, give it a chance and see what you think. Just don't say I didn't warn you. (There are some lovely visuals -- the photography's in black-and-white -- scattered throughout the film: See one of these, below.)

G&M on a PB&J  -- no, no -- just a PB -- from Variance Films, opens Friday at the Cinema Village in New York City.  And perhaps elsewhere, eventually.

(All photos are from the film itself, except that of Mr. Chazelle, which is by Jennifer Taylor for The Boston Globe)

1 comment:

James van Maanen, said...

To give the other side of the coin: Having just heard from a friend/colleague, Oleg Dubson, who has a very different opinion of this film, I though I'd publish his comments below:

Dear friends and colleagues,

I rarely do this, but I thought Iwould write a mass note to encourage everyone to go and see GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH. If you've seen it already at Tribeca or elsewhere, go see it again. This is the kind of independent narrative filmmaking that should really be supported and nourished (as opposed to all the salivating Sundance-damaged schlock that normally comes out under the banner of "American indies").

I met Damien Chazelle, the filmmaker, at the Sarajevo Film Festival. He really deserves to have a long and wonderful filmmaking career (I'm sure he will) and I'd love for GUY AND MADELINE to have a great opening weekend! Damien and some of the cast & crew will be present for Q&As at today's (Friday, November 5) and tomorrow's evening screenings. I myself am planning to attend the 7pm Saturday night
show, so feel free to join me! (The film is playing at Cinema Village:

If you don't trust my opinion, here is Jim Hoberman's: "No movie I’ve seen this year has given me more joy." (
And as some of you know, it ain't easy to make Jim Hoberman joyous.

If you trust neither mine nor Hoberman's opinion, you should go see GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH anyway.

More info here:

Have a pleasant weekend. Go out and tap dance.