In the middle of a conversation at a crowded party, a ponytailed hepcat suddenly bursts into song. Accompanied by a jazz band and cheered on by friends, he tap-dances with an initially indifferent female partner until turning the floor over to a trumpet player in the enjoining room, the entire musical number covered in one long sinuous shot. This terrific sequence arrives toward the beginning of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, a first-time film from Damien Chazelle that sadly thereafter—in what feels like an interminable decline—belies the promise of its sole highlight’s unexpected magic. Whereas there Chazelle perfectly weds the grainy, black-and-white look of bohemian cool with the top-notch choreography and infectious joy of an old Hollywood musical, the rest of G&Msimply meanders. A wisp of a story involves the titular couple—the former (Jason Palmer) the aforementioned trumpeter and the latter (Desiree Garcia) a down-and-out waitress—who break up, pine for each other while with unsatisfying new mates, and then reunite at film’s end. Their personalities are drab and their talents questionable: Palmer knocks out some fine jazz, actually, but Garcia’s singing voice is reedy and weak, her negligible presence a huge liability throughout a series of agonizingly aimless encounters. Like so many low-low-budget mediocrities, G&M mistakes visual and narrative slackness for "authenticity," and combined with an ineptly contrived take on New Wave genre-play, that spells death. A musical in which characters express their feelings through song can’t work if those characters are complete non-entities, and can’t sing to boot.
Opens November 5