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‘Song to Song’ (review)

Produced by Nicolas Gonda,
Sarah Green, Ken Kao

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling,
Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett,
Lykke Li, Val Kilmer, Holly Hunter


Song to Song is the most indie of indie films written and directed by the Sweetheart of the Indie side of Hollywood, Terrence Malick.

Song to Song is a loosely strung together story of Faye (Rooney Mara), a young woman living in Austin, Texas who dreams of breaking into the music business.

Faye involves herself with successful music producer, Cook (Michael Fassbender) to further her career, while Cook deceives and exploits a succession of hungry songwriters, including the naive BV (Ryan Gosling).

To complicate matters, BV falls in love with Faye, but doesn’t realize she’s involved with Cook.  Faye falls in love with BV, but neither tells BV any of the truth about Cook, or will she leave Cook and give up her chance at a big break.  Cook only wants everything he doesn’t have, which is talent or love, but will take it from everyone else.

If this sounds convoluted and confusing, welcome to the film, Song To Song.

Malick is true to form in creating a film that is more poetry than prose, but seems to have lost his way.  Song to Song feels like 3 different films; a documentary about the Austin music scene, a love triangle of self involved people, and a beautiful nature documentary full of gorgeous vistas.  These components have been mashed up and held together by heavy handed editing and dialog that is presented mostly as voice overs.

I normally love Malick’s style of storytelling, but without the structure of a strong script, the film becomes a slideshow of beautiful locations and beautiful actors with nothing for the audience to hold onto and therefore they become anesthetized to the beauty.  Actors are left to emote without restraint or stare off screen meaningfully while the audience is forced to listen to their disembodied voices pontificate.  The result is an exhausting trudge for the audience to get to the meat of the story. With a running time of only 2 hours it feels like a lifetime.

There are scenes that are filmed in such a way that is supposed to capture the small, precious moments in life; a look, a laugh, the light touch of a hand, the sunlight falling on a loved one’s face.  They are fleeting, which makes them bittersweet.  However, Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki serve these moment up in such abundance, that they lose their preciousness. Moments that were meant to be intimate are often awkward, like you just walked in on your roommate and the significant other.

The sprinkle of real life interviews of noted musicians Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, John Lydon seems only added to give Faye, BV, and Cook the artifice of being real world musicians.  They are treated with little more love or respect than the instruments used to dress the set.  It is a missed opportunity to give audiences a chance to connect to the music scene and see why someone would want to be a part of that world.

These characters seem to have little real passion for the music that is suppose to be their shared link.  Each spends more time brooding over their inner dialogs, professing their love for the other person, but truly just wrapped up in their self and their own idea of their partner.

I feel teenage me would have loved the pathos of the Faye story.  Adult me is just impatient with the whole film.  Song to Song was made to please only one person, and that is Terrence Mailck.


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