Monday, June 20, 2011

A Musical Life: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

I work in a very small office. Despite this--or maybe because of it, as we all wear multiple hats--it was several years before I got to know people I'd been in close proximity to for most of my waking hours. Turns out I work with a lot of talented artists, writers and musicians. Who knew?

A couple of weeks ago I was having a discussion with one of these coworkers--also a writer, also a former high school theatre geek--about what life would be like as a musical. As in, anyone could burst into song about his/her feelings at any given moment. I had one word for this: "awesome." His counterargument was a bit more articulate: "But loud. Really loud. There would be one person singing over here, another one singing over there." He had a point. Still, I'd love to sing and dance out my emotions for just one day a year. It's what I miss most about performing: not being the center of attention, but taking whatever shit you had going on that week, pulling a Stanislavski and "using it."

A few days ago, in the midst of a particularly stressful morning, this same coworker appeared at my cubicle and presented me with a DVD. "You will love this," he said. And he was right.

I give you Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.

Remember how Once was technically a "musical," but didn't seem like it? There were no giant production numbers, no overdubbed vocals, no obvious lip-synching. The story was simple, the characters naturalistic, the songs organic. Granted, the protagonists were musicians, but their lyrics reflected their situations and relationships better than spoken words ever could. They weren't always happy with their lives, but they were surrounded by music, and that made day-to-day struggles a bit more bearable.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is a lot like Once, only there's also tap dancing. And it takes some talented filmmaking to make tap dancing seem off-the-cuff.

At first glance, the film's plot isn't a complicated one: Guy plays jazz trumpet and Madeline is a grad student. They're together, until they're not. Guy gets another girlfriend, Madeline looks to change her environment entirely. But is it really over between them?

Pretty straightforward, right? Except not really. Because as anyone who's ever dated anyone else knows, there are often lingering feelings. Regret. Memories good and bad. Wondering if you did the right thing by leaving or being left without a fight. And what better way to work all this out than trumpeting and tapping?

Oh, and the entire movie is shot in black and white with a handheld camera. Before you roll your eyes at the pretension, let me reassure you: it works. The black and white brings to mind MGM musicals of old, and the handheld adds an earthy quality. The musical numbers aren't slick and polished. They project happiness, but also nostalgia, gloom, desperation. And lastly, optimism.

My coworker is right: the world would be a louder place if we lived in a musical. However, I wouldn't mind living inside Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. Everyone looks better in black and white, sounds better warbling about the time they kissed a boy in the park. Even from the depths of heartbreak sound lovelier in song.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is now available on DVD. Probably not at your local Redbox, but it's worth the hunt.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome review, Lauren. I'm glad that you dug the film as much as I did. It's magic.