Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

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Damien Chazelle's affectionate black-and-white musical begins at an end---with the breakup of the titular characters (Palmer and Garcia), an event we see from both of their harmonically opposed vantage points. Waitress Madeline views the world as if it were scored by a giant orchestra and ruled by the logic of a Jacques Demy film (in the best scene, she and her coworkers do a gloriously infectious tap dance). Trumpet player Guy is more of a raw outcast, moving between his spare apartment and the hepcat back alleys of Boston's jazz scene. The Cassavetes-circa-Shadows influence is unmistakable.

That the duo will work their way back to each other is never in doubt, although Chazelle doesn't succumb to easy sentiment. If anything, he moves too far in the other direction, aiming for a wizened ambiguity that doesn't entirely come off. The way the film deals with Guy's rebound lover (Khin) is meant to be sympathetic, deepening her character beyond a one-dimensional third wheel, but it plays half-baked and strangely creepy. And you can really feel the gears grinding when Guy toots a reconciliatory ditty for Madeline---the rough-and-tumble handheld camerawork seems to be re-e-e-e-e-eaching for an epiphany that Chazelle doesn't yet have the chops to achieve.

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