Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

{Guy & Madeline on a Park Bench screens in Seattle at the Northwest Film Forum from 1/7-1/13}

Watching Guy & Madeline on a Park Bench taught me three things:

1. Contrary to all prior evidence there is a limit to how big of a hopeless romantic I am – meaning you can execute a well made clever take on the genre and I won’t always bite.

2. A well placed, out-of-the-blue tap dance scene in a diner can still work in todays era of Transformers 3 boom and gloom movie mayhem.

3. Wanting to like a movie too much can end in heartbreak.

Which is my longwinded way of saying that I went prepared, wanting, and needing to love this film – but instead exited feeling it was a well put together exercise that only engaged me for moments vs. taking me along for a deeply enjoyable ride. That said, I think there’s something to recommend the film to certain folks, I’m just not quite one of them (though I sort of want to be one of those people).

Any overview of the film will and should mention both the premise and the twist. Guy meets girl, they spend some time together then drift apart. A 16mm, black and white retro camera follows both along their meandering life path. This journey forms the wisp thin near illusion of a story. More important than if their paths will recross is the musical numbers that pervade the film, and its overall feel. The guy (actually named Guy) is a jazz trumpeter, and the girl (Madeline) has a thing for breaking into tap dance routines and singing. When she’s not picking up random guys for a shag that is…or a chaste visit to their apartment, though I could be misreading that part.

I’m not a jazz aficionado, so you’d need one more qualified than I to speak to whether the picture is truly an “ode to Boston’s eclectic jazz scene” as the marketing literature attests. Press materials also mention an feel of Godard meets Cassavetes. I can see the former, but again (and this is starting to make me feel dumb) I’m not knowledgeable enough to confirm the latter. 

Guy & Madeline is clearly a technically well done piece where the music and yes even the singing/dancing feels like an organic part of the production. I’m unable to step away from the keyboard without mentioning that the dialog (limited as it is) and the shooting style would fall into the artistic mumblecore mashup realm. And in this case I’m using that much abused trope literally as I often had some difficulty making out the dialog.  

I’ve struggled since seeing Guy & Madeline on a Park Bench with how to answer the “is it worth seeing” question. If you love jazz I suspect the answer is yes. For me, the lightly sketched characters and a personal lack of interest in their life arcs left me rather unenthused. The final scene was cute in a “gazing into eyes” way, with an abrupt ending which redeemed itself in my eyes a smudge.

I think a lot of people are going to love this film. If you’re a student of film and can enjoy it just for the visuals and the music it’s almost certainly worth a trip over to the NWFF.  Unfortunately for me, it was more an interesting cinematic experiment than anything else. In quite a few ways it reminded me of This Movie is Broken: a concert film/relationship mashup featuring the music of Broken Social Scene I caught earlier this year. There I was more drawn in to the people, even though the story wasn’t truly the reason to show up.

Still, I’m sure it’s way better than Transformer’s 3 is going to be …