Sometimes you never know if you would befriend someone unless you really got the chance to get to know them. Set up like it just finished its run off-Broadway, Ann LeSchander’s simple love story takes place on The Park Bench. From the opening scene, it’s obvious where the story will go, and you’re immediately interested to see it happen. One of the reasons is the fact that these two people come from different cultural backgrounds and they are almost the complete opposite of each other. And although it has some wonderful and intimate moments and occasionally pretty deep back-and-forth between the two leads, its attempts to capitalize on romance, it never quite makes it legitimately past the friendship zone.
Emily (Nicole Hayden), an OCD post-graduate student whose ambition is to become a librarian, begins tutoring Mateo (Walter Perez), a Mexican American college student trying to pass his English lit course. Their first meeting–at the park bench, of course–doesn’t exactly go smoothly. Suffice it to say, it’s all business in the beginning. Emily is engaged to a nice guy, and it’s clear she isn’t 100% convinced that he’s the one, but that doesn’t stop her from getting to know Mateo. The entire film takes place on the park bench and so the scenery gets a bit stale after awhile because it doesn’t change. Interspersed between these scenes at the bench are minor characters that weave in and out of the story to little effect. Most creative of all, however, is the animation that is used to tell a story that gives us a break from Mateo and Emily. It’s well done and a nice touch, even if doesn’t always flow with the scenes it complements.
Ann LeSchander’s script, limited to its place in the park, is very conversation-heavy. Mateo and Emily have long discussions about a lot of different things (is The Great Gatsby the definitive story about the loss of the American dream? Mateo doesn’t think so; Emily’s favorite musical? Carnival). And to bring in a touch of drama, LeSchander allows for some outside events to filter their way into the world Emily and Mateo have created for themselves, but because we don’t have any other connection to their lives otherwise, these personal touches are lost.
It’s hard to knock down this film because its intentions are humble and there is some character development so that the relationship doesn’t fly out of thin air. However, its plot is almost entirely conflict-free, which causes the characters’ journey to stutter and flail before trying to find purchase again. When they finally get together bit at the end is quick and not as satisfying or effective. This is most likely due to the conflict-free issue I mentioned before. Nicole Hayden and Walter Perez do have chemistry and the idea that two people from different backgrounds fall in love is very sweet, so it is a shame that the plot never really goes anywhere. LeSchander shows a lot of strength in her debut feature, but because of the unchanging setting, The Park Bench could have perhaps been better if it had been situated on a stage rather than onscreen.