Song to Song
Let's get this part out of the way. I'm a huge Terrence Malick fan. I love the poetry of his work, both visually and in his ever-present voice-overs that seem to replace dialogue with what is really going on internally with his characters. There is something lyrical and deeply hidden about his filmscapes that make you feel like you're at once eavesdropping, yet still identifying with it all.
Some don't like his constant desire to cut away to nature or an inanimate object or some other photogenic item that may or may not have to do with the story at hand. Which I disagree with. Each shot gives you a sense of time and space and I've grown to appreciate this detail.
Malick has always had these qualities to his work, but early films like "Badlands," "Days of Heaven," "The Thin Red Line," and "The New World" (one of my all-time favorite films) still had a solid narrative that he wove into signature style. "Tree of Life" was the game-changer. It was a film that sharply divided audiences who weren't used to his esoteric style and contemplative musings. There was a story buried there, but it got slightly lost with a sequence about the beginnings of the universe and flash-forwards to a character's adulthood and possible death.
Since then, Malick has gone full-throttle with this style, eschewing any solid narrative through-line for a more "slice-of-life" exploration of characters that -- to be fair -- has a point, but you have to work to find it. "To the Wonder" was about a relationship doomed because of an affair, and "Knight of Cups" told the story of a Hollywood player who learns how to be a better man through the women he gets involved with. Both films are almost dialogue-free and rely solely on voice-over from our main characters and beautiful shots of young lovers in all sorts of bodily entanglements.
Which brings us to "Song to Song." Shot five years ago, right after "Knight of Cups," the film seems to be the final episode in a trilogy of relationship dramas using this very specific style. While in the past I've liked this way of telling a story, at this point it's starting to become self-parody. While the beauty of the images by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki are gorgeous and we see things we might not normally see, this time around you start questioning why you're actually seeing these things. More on that in a moment.
"Song to Song" focuses mainly on Faye (Rooney Mara), a musician trying to make it in Austin's music scene. She meets high-powered and aggressive producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) and gets involved with him, hoping he'll help her career. But at one of his parties she meets the more down-to-earth songwriter BV (Ryan Gosling), for whom she starts to develop strong feelings. This love triangle goes on for quite some time, but it is also a little confusing as the three often hang out together and we're not sure who knows what, or if one of the relationships is actually in the future.
Throughout the film, Cook also gets involved with a kindergarten teacher/waitress Rhonda (Natalie Portman), BV has a brief relationship with Amanda (Cate Blanchett) and Faye even dabbles in an affair with a woman (Berenice Marlohe). This is Rooney Mara's film all the way. It is about her navigation through the men and women in her life and where that ultimately leads her that is the driving force of the film.
Unfortunately, "driving force" is a bit of a misnomer as, per usual, Malick's latest is lackadaisical, wandering, and repetitive. While the images are stunning, the things Malick focuses on have started to feel false and forced. He follows his couples around like a voyeur, but all he ever catches them doing is bouncing around on beds, draping themselves across couches, and rolling against walls and draped windows. There's a point where you wonder if any of these people own a TV, and do they ever just sit still and watch it? They are constantly circling each other like predator and prey. No one can sit still, and most of the time they aren't even talking. They just look at each other, smirk, bat their eyes, and touch things.
And for a film about the Austin music scene, there is very little of the characters actually playing music. We don't really see BV writing any songs, we don't see much of Cook producing anything, and I'm still not sure if Faye actually sings or just plays guitar because that's all we ever see her do. The film shouldn't have been called "Song to Song," it should have been called "House to House," as the couples are continuously shown in various abodes that are sometimes massive and elaborate or small and farmhouse-like. Yet, half the time we aren't sure whose house they are in. Perhaps the underlying plot here is that these couples like to play out their relationships by breaking into stranger's homes and touching their comforters and window dressings.
Relationships aren't like this. Moments of non-verbal communication and playing around like children happen, but not as often as they do with these couples. It's all one big perfume ad and that's just not reality. And from a filmmaker that likes to capture reality, he's somehow separated himself from it.
Look, there are deeper themes here and if you want to really study it, you will find its depth. Malick is still a one-of-a-kind filmmaker, but his style is too specific to be mainstream again. In fact, at the screening I saw this film at, a third of the audience was everyday folk (i.e., not press) and thirty-four of them walked out before the film ended. And as much as I love Malick and wait with bated breath for his next work, I found myself losing patience.
One hopes that Malick has gotten this study of pretty people rolling around on the floor out of his system so he can go back and capture narrative stories while still interweaving the poetry he's known for. Having recently revisited "The Thin Red Line," I was reminded at how visceral and intense a filmmaker he could be, while also employing his signature style. I pray he takes an interest in that again before he decides to make another film about a mute couple going shopping for window treatments.
Song to Song
InfoRuntime :: 129 mins
Release Date :: Mar 17, 2017
Language :: Silent
Country :: United States
CastBV :: Ryan Gosling
Faye :: Rooney Mara
Cook :: Michael Fassbender
Rhonda :: Natalie Portman
Amanda :: Cate Blanchett
Miranda :: Holly Hunter
Zoey :: Bérénice Marlohe
Duane :: Val Kilmer
Lykke :: Lykke Li
Emma :: Olivia Applegate
Mrs. Gansmer :: Louanne Stephens
CrewDirector :: Terrence Malick
Screenwriter :: Terrence Malick
Producer :: Sarah Green
Producer :: Nicolas Gonda
Producer :: Ken Kao
Executive Producer :: Glen Basner
Executive Producer :: Christos Konstantakopoulos
Executive Producer :: Tanner Beard
Cinematographer :: Emmanuel Lubezki
Film Editor :: Rehman Ali
Film Editor :: Hank Corwin
Film Editor :: Keith Fraase
Production Design :: Jack Fisk
Art Director :: Ruth De Jong
Set Decoration :: David Hack
Costume Designer :: Jacqueline West
Casting :: Francine Maisler