Two youthful couples face the positives and negatives of romance on the road, in Terrence Malick’s newest visual entrancement, ‘Song to Song’. In this modern love story set against the backdrop of the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples; struggling songwriters Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling), and music mogul producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he ensnares (Natalie Portman), chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal that will rock the foundations of each relationship and business bond. ‘Song to Song’ is written and directed by Terrence Malick, and is rated R for some sexuality, nudity, drug use and adult language.
FILM FREAK JOKE: How does Terrence Malick know when to end a movie? When he runs out of film.
‘Song to Song’, the latest from critically acclaimed and panned director Terrence Malick showcases everything that both crowds have come to love and hate, and will certainly offer nothing of groundbreaking alteration for each respective opinion. It’s a look at the music scene of Austin, Texas, with the same splashes of pretentious filmmaking that Malick has perfected into crafting one of the most unorthodox methods of camera work currently going. For me, Song to Song was a two hour endurance test that felt like I was climbing the steepest mountain, when others who joined me on the journey were falling along the way. At any given time, people will walk out of a movie. But when over half of the audience of eleven people get fed up with the lack of direction or narrative from where the story is heading, there’s a great problem on your hands. Add to the fact that I saw this movie at an art house theater and it only adds insult to injury when you consider the kinds of things that these particular audiences are used to sitting through. I myself came so close to making this only the second film that I have ever walked out of, not because it is the worst thing that I have ever seen, but because it often feels like you are watching a high-school kid aiming and shooting at the most random of occasions. It lacks any kind of structure for conceptual storytelling, and I don’t mean that as a rare breed kind of compliment. Song to Song is the worst film that I have seen in a three month old 2017 that has set the bar low so early on in the year. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
First of all is the story itself and lack of narration on-screen that stunted any kind of momentum or interest for the audience to engage in. As a storyteller, Malick would rather abide by the law of ‘tell but don’t show’, so a lot of the film’s sequences feel like jumbled pieces that don’t fit well together, signaling a trimming from a possibly much larger director’s cut that fills in the blanks from scenes that quickly become incoherent. The film’s four main cast members serve as narrators throughout the movie, but their lack of delivery with emphasis in the important subplots often feels like a blink and you will miss it kind of deal, as there were many points in this film where things switched up between romantic partners without very little warning or building. On top of this, Malick lacks any kind of dual or long-distance storytelling to pace out these four characters better. There are noticeable chunks in this movie where Gosling and Mara will disappear for twenty-five minutes, or Fassbender and Portman will vanish for thirty minutes. It hinders the boundaries of entertainment when we could use this period of breath between two protagonists to see what is going on with the other two, but this film is incapable of clicking and comparing the trials and tribulations of two couples equally to ever contrast the differences and similarities. As for long term, there is so much back-and-forth in this movie from where our characters begin and end. Everything feels like short instances instead of long breaths in the creative, so most of the material is throwaway for the plot that is such a small part of what this movie really centers on.
The visual presentation for the movie featured positives and negatives that both serve as glaring examples for their dependency on Malick’s signature style. The backdrops of Austin are gorgeous. This movie could’ve passed as being a video for A-list celebrities on vacation, but unfortunately that is one of the many missed opportunities. Malick certainly has a love and passion for this geography. There’s music, luxurious real estate, and sex….lots of sex for Terrence to oogle at. I’ve always been a way at how this director can frame a shot, opting to invade the space of his central characters to put us in the thick of their engagements. That never fades even in this movie. Terrence can point and shoot as well as anyone, but where there’s style, there better certainly be substance, and as I mentioned before, this film deprived me immensely of such a concept. Where the visuals negate to a fault is in the picture editing, which is among the most jarringly disastrous since Suicide Squad, and that’s saying a lot. Malick cuts far too often for even the most simple of exchanges, instead choosing to convolute something that is completely unnecessary for. There are many times in this film where questions will be asked by the current narrator of the scene, only to move on without any answer or reminder ever again. Imagine if someone told you a story like this; Mary is ten years old. Mary’s favorite food is……her favorite movie is……. One of the biggest problems that I think my audience had with this film was how jumpy everything felt. It keeps it from ever building any scene-to-scene momentum, and feels D.O.A early on in the picture.
Kudos to the trailer editor for this movie for somehow managing to take two hours of this dreary, dreadful film and crafting it into a story that anyone would be a sucker for. I certainly fell hook, line, and sinker for a trailer to a movie that I never got. I mean, the love story and the music is there, but this film’s visual style is constantly moving in slow motion, lacking any real energy to relate it to what feels so special about these people or this town. Lines of dialogue continuously take the long route each and every time to get to their destinations, most notably in Mara’s character, who is constantly brooding like she is in a Calvin Klein perfume commercial. After a while, the act gets stale, and the story could use any kind of stimulation to remind us of the importance of losing real, honest love. The screenplay continues to stomp over every detail that could’ve used appropriate time to soak up each detail, but instead slugs its way through pacing that practically doesn’t exist at all. The film feels like it lacks the three act structure from that of a typical screenplay, and instead exerts one continuous two hour act that drowns on like a funeral proceeding. The irony of which could be the foot in the grave that this director now has for the audience through this.
There’s not much to the performances, mostly because this well-stacked A-list cast is given so little to work with. It feels like Malick just turned the camera on for the four of them to say and do anything that they please, further adding to the celebrity vacation idea that I firmly planted in the previous paragraphs. The movie was shot over a five year period, so it’s funny to see hairstyles and even personal appearances vary as the movie goes on. It works well for the weathering of time, but does very little for visual continuity. Natalie Portman’s character is really the only character with any kind of gripping exposition, but she’s never given any kind of value in screen time to act her way through it. Fassbender is wasted. One of the very best actors in the world, and his character slouches in a dense fog of sexual addiction and alcohol that sideline him for a majority of the film. He’s nowhere near the important aspect that the trailer made him out to be. As for the two main characters, Gosling and Mara rarely insight a sense of magic that makes their union believable. There is certainly chemistry, but more believable as friends and not lovers, with the way they charmingly play around with each other. One cool aspect that the sound department does to relay the importance of the movie’s title, is that there is constantly some form of music playing around them when they are together. The idea of falling in love with someone and music always playing definitely came to mind here, and even if Malick can’t direct performances out of them, he at least sets the stage for a poetically beautiful confrontation that always kept my toes tapping where my heart wasn’t.
Whether hype or heart, Malick continues to polarize his reputation, conjuring up the very worst film to date that the once prosperous director has attached his name to. Song to Song is a disjointed, disheartening, and often times incoherent rambling of the director’s personal take on modern love. With some of the worst editing sequencing to hit the silver-screen, as well as hollow pacing that served as a dull exercise in patience, Terrence’s newest flub can’t find a screenplay to equally match its gorgeous cinematography. It’s a movie that feels like more of the same for a writer who has written himself into a corner of bland pretentiousness, hitting all of the wrong notes with musical monotony.