It’s rare when a film achieves absolute perfection. And such hyperbole shouldn’t be thrown around lightly, but Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench deserves the praise.
A low-budget affair shot on grainy, black-and-white 16mm, Guy and Madeline has a simple plot: Boy loves girl. Boy gets bored and leaves girl for another. Girl moves on with her life. Boy realizes the error of his ways and tries to find the love he spurned. The manner in which director Damien Chazelle tells this familiar story is far from simplistic, however.
Employing live jazz, swing, tap, soft shoe, big dance numbers and original songs composed by Justin Hurwitz and recorded by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, Chazelle creates a rag-tag movie musical bursting with life and love with a documentary-like realism and immediacy that recalls the French New Wave and John Cassavetes’ best efforts. And it’s better than any musical produced by Hollywood in decades.
From the whirlwind opening two-and-a-half minutes that encapsulate in brief Guy and Madeline’s burgeoning then dying relationship through the subsequent scenes detailing the emotional aftermath, Guy and Madeline is a wonder a minute, shifting from cinema verite-captured drama to impeccable music sequences and back again. Up-and-coming trumpet extraordinaire Jason Palmer stars as Guy, and he’s a wonder — an actor whose quiet subtlety finds electric release on the horn. Desiree Garcia is his equal as Madeline, another quiet sort who relates her conflicted feelings best through song.
Bonus features add much to appreciating the film’s complexity. Behind-the-scenes featurettes detailing the production reveal musical construction on a shoestring and deleted scenes flesh out characters and moments further. A supplementary booklet essay by film critic Amy Taubin delves even further, providing interesting background info on the film, its influences and its Harvard-educated director. Grade: A