Saturday, March 25, 2017

SONG TO SONG (2017)

Written & Directed by Terrence Malick


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. March 21, 2017  4:45 PM



Terrence Malick began making films in the early 1970's, a time when major American movie studios were much more open to independent minded, experimental cinema. In 1973, he wrote and directed, "Badlands", a very low-budget, crime drama of two young lovers on a murder spree which featured early film appearances from Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. The film was met with rapturous critical praise and his follow-up, "Days of Heaven" came five years later. It was not a great commercial success but with a magnificent score by Ennio Morricone, influential camerawork by Nestor Almendros (which would win an Oscar) and a star-making turn from Richard Gere, this love triangle set in the early twentieth century Texas panhandle is still considered a cinematic masterpiece.

After all this initial acclaim of his work, you would think it wouldn't be long before we had more intriguing films coming from Malick. But nothing quickly materialized. It would be twenty years later before the reclusive filmmaker would reemerge with a star-filled, WWII drama, "The Thin Red Line". The film received seven Oscar nominations and followed this with a Captain John Smith and Pocahontas romance, "The New World" in 2005. Following "Tree of Life", Malick's 2011 polarizing, semi-autobiographical family drama set in 1950's Texas, the director has become almost prolific, releasing five films since including his latest, "Song to Song", a meditative, disjointed love story.

Malick has returned with another Texan romantic triangle but this time it's a modern tale set in the Austin music scene. Rooney Mara plays Faye, an up-and-coming musician who catches the eye of Cook (Michael Fassbender), a successful record executive and a handsome musician, BV (Ryan Gosling). Faye tends to drift emotionally between the two men, enjoying each of their company and unable to make a clear commitment to either. At first, the guys don't seem to mind, even all going on a trip to Mexico together to have drunken, hedonistic fun in the sun.

But soon they all become restless or disillusioned or bored and move on to other relationships. Cook meets a pretty waitress (Natalie Portman) and impulsively marries her. But his wild and sexually-free lifestyle eventually makes her uneasy. BV becomes involved with a wealthy, older woman (Cate Blanchett) much to his mother's (Linda Emond) disapproval. And Faye finds herself infatuated with a stunning French woman (Bérénice Marlohe).

Structurally, "Song to Song" follows the same tepid set-up as Malick's other recent films. We have a paper-thin plot with even thinner characterizations. With minimal, improvised dialogue spoken, he relies too heavily on poetic voice-over narration to fill in the blanks. Much like the director's last feature, "Knight of Cups" which was focused on Christian Bale's depressed Hollywood writer, this film's music world setting is purely incidental. I am surprised by how little music there is here and how little music really motivates the narrative despite plenty of cameo appearances from a diverse group of real-life musicians like Iggy Pop, Anthony Kiedis and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Big Freedia, Lykke Li and the legendary, Patti Smith.

But what really seems to motivate Malick is the moving image and with solid support from Oscar-winning cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, the film is enhanced by beautifully stylish, dream-like visuals shot in natural light. This respected filmmaker has easily been able to draw big-name talent (similarly like another temperamental director, Woody Allen) eager to want to work with him and Malick uses their recognized star-wattage to assist in fleshing out his films. But despite all their best efforts, some of these actors can simply disappear on the cutting room floor or find their performances reduced down to a rapid succession of fragmented emotional bits.

I heard that Malick's initial cut of "Song to Song" was an exorbitant eight hours long. Common sense prevailed with the running time reduced more reasonably to a little over two hours yet this slight film's length still feels excessive. There is no denying the masterful artistry and singular vision of this gifted filmmaker but "Song to Song" lacks a substantial, satisfying rhythm.