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'The Park Bench' can't rise above its cute factor

'The Park Bench' can't rise above its cute factor
A scene from "The Park Bench." (Theparkbenchfilm.com)

The single setting of a park bench makes for a clever concept driving this minor romance, "The Park Bench," written and directed by Ann LeSchander.

The bench is where tightly wound library science student Emily (Nicole Hayden) and Mexican immigrant Mateo (Walter Perez) meet for thrice-weekly tutoring sessions. Although the conversation starts with American literature, the subject of his course, it soon diverts to more personal matters, as they get to know each other. Mateo develops a crush, but Emily's committed to marrying a pharmacist she describes as "stable."

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The story is told through a series of vignettes — moments, really, that take place on the bench. Abrupt fades in and out signifying the passage of time often feel a bit awkwardly placed, and intertitles that indicate upcoming events seem unnecessary.

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Instead, "The Park Bench" relies heavily on the charm of its performers, who do have a palpable chemistry. Their personalities may lean too heavily on the stereotypes of high-strung, obsessive, uptight woman and passionate and sensual Latino, but Perez and Hayden do bring dimension to their roles.

The single setting is varied with a couple of flashbacks and animated sequences as Emily and Mateo tell each other stories about themselves, stories that are more cutesy than they are revealing. Ultimately, that's "The Park Bench": a sweet tale with a smart storytelling device and charming performers, but not much more beyond the cute.

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'The Park Bench'

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes.

Playing: Arena, Hollywood.

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