Music rocks. Until it doesn’t.
Set in/around the Austin, Texas music scene follows the story of four different people who are all in some way, shape, or form connected to one another. There’s BV (Ryan Gosling) a struggling lyricist who has chances of becoming the next best thing since Bowie, but for some reason, doesn’t know if he wants to fully commit to this dream just yet. His buddy/co-writer/co-producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) is on a much different playing-field; he’s already established, rich, wild and happy as can be, but also a bit of a nut-case, which leads him to making some pretty rash, awful decisions. Then, there’s his former assistant, Faye (Rooney Mara), who now spends her time taking up odd-jobs, whenever she isn’t flirting with the idea of music. And then, there’s waitress Rhonda (Natalie Portman) who meets Cook and ends up not just falling for him, but the world he represents. The same thing happens when BV and Faye meet one another, too, however, their relationship becomes more and more toxic as certain secrets begin to come up into the air.
Song to Song is a lot like every other Terrence Malick film released since the Tree of Life: Rambling, ambitious, meandering, random, and oh yeah, absolutely beautiful. And normally, as was the case in both Knight of Cups and To the Wonder, I would be annoyed, baffled and oh yeah, utterly disappointed; after all, this is the one director who every person in Hollywood wants to work with, drops everything to be around, and do so, without ever even being promised that they’ll be in the final-cut. It’s surprising, actually, because Malick, while no doubt having made some classics in his film-maker career, has more “mehs”, than actually “wows”.
Consider Song to Song in the category of the later, although, with some obvious mild reservations.
Of course, it deserves to be said that, at times, Song to Song can’t help but be incoherent; the editing is so dazzling and jumpy that it doesn’t take long to realize that every scene will probably be on the screen for upwards of five seconds, only to then be switched back to another. The editing is impressive and considering how much footage was probably there to be waded through, time and time again, cut-and-cut, it’s all the more surprising how much of it actually seems to make sense, when put together, but man oh man, the shots can tend to be repetitive.
I mean, yes, I get it: It’s a Malick film. So of course we have to have a bunch of scenes of people frolicking in nature, looking towards the sky, running around exotic locations, and trying not to kiss, but yeah, it happens way too many times here. A part of me wants to learn and accept that as Malick’s thing, and move on, but a part of me can’t help but think it’s just pure laziness, where rather than having to actually write a script, where people speak to one another and profess certain things, they can just run around, glance at each other, and appreciate nature. Once or twice is fine, okay, whatever, but it happens way too often here to where I was beginning to wonder if certain shots were re-used, just so that Malick could hit his frolicking-cue.
And on that note, let me just switch gears by saying, despite these reservations, this movie is quite the watch.
And I mean that in the best way possible.
Sure, it’s Terrence Malick, so the narrative isn’t always the strongest, but in a way, there’s more cohesion here, than there’s been in anything of his since the Tree of Life. Seemingly, they’re two love stories, all taking place around the Texas music scene, and while the movie does ramble on to other places, it’s easy to understand that it is about these four characters and leaving it at that. It’s easy to get confused and well, bored, in Malick’s other flicks, but here, it seems like he knows the kind of story he wants to tell and doesn’t try to go for anything else.
That said, there’s an energy to this thing that just keeps on kicking throughout the whole two hours. It’s honestly what kept me watching, even when it seemed the movie was going to lose its way. But surprisingly, it never does seem to; even in those parts where the movie slows down and focuses on, hey, get this, the actual characters and their lives, there’s still a rambunctious feeling in the air that Malick, believe it or not, just wants to kick out the jams.
And well, he sort of does.
If there’s one complaint that I’ve been seeing around is how Song to Song isn’t really as much about the music, as much as it’s about these characters that make and live around the music, which is an okay complaint, I guess. Except that well, that’s what the movie’s about. Malick doesn’t seem to set out and create some sort of conventional, crowd-pleasing musical in the same vein of La La Land or Chicago, but much more of a narrative-based movie that surrounds itself with loud guitars, amps, drums, and singers, like Nashville, for lack of a better complaint. Sure, we get brief glimpses of Florence and the Machine, Patti Smith, and the Black Lips, but the movie isn’t trying to make this the ultimate Woodstock experience for those who wanted to experience, but more or less, use it as an interesting backdrop for all of these wildly contained lives.
In a way, it’s incredibly smart on Malick’s part, because he not only makes us feel like we’re watching a documentary the whole way through, but a very interesting one at that. Which is to say that yes, Song to Song is beautiful, but you probably already knew that; Emmanuel Lubezki touches something and it automatically turns to art. But there’s something more beyond the prettiness and glossiness of the whole thing that makes it feel much more about the heart, other than the style.
Which is also why Malick does a smart thing in actually allowing his cast to aid him in telling the story, for once.
And with Gosling, Portman, Mara, and especially, Fassbender, Malick’s found some real treats. Granted, a good portion of their performances ultimately come down to narration, but when they are captured on-screen, in the moment, all of them are captivating and enthralling. Fassbender’s probably the stand-out here, showing a loose and wild man in Cook who, despite having all of the money and power in the world, still shows a great deal of darkness, lying underneath. While most of the performance seems improvised, it’s still a true testament to the kind of talent that Fassbender is, where he can play this sometimes over-the-top character and still, somewhat, make him seem real and honest.
Then again, it is a Terrence Malick film, so how real or honest you can get, totally depends on him.
Consensus: Though it does have the ability to ramble at certain points, the exciting energy, utter beauty, and interesting performances of Song to Song are what keep it, at best, compelling and a lively experience. Sort of like, hey, get this, going to a concert. Except with, of course, less music.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire