Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman
Watch Song to Song online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Terrence Malick’s last four films have been characterised by an impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness, non-linear style which has proved intensely divisive. Song to Song continues to implement this structure, and, while it’s unlikely to convert Malik sceptics, it’s most definitely his most refined, accomplished film of this decade. Gorgeously shot, melancholic and unashamedly self-indulgent, Song to Song is a mesmeric experience tinged with a frustrating obscurity.
The narrative (a term to use lightly when referring to Malick’s films) revolves around the Austin music scene and lyricist couple BV (Gosling) and Faye (Mara), who want to make it big in the turbulent Texan rock and roll scene. But complications, betrayals and heartbreak arise when the pair become entangled with music mogul Cook (Fassbender) and his waitress muse, Rhonda (Portman). Cate Blanchett also pops up late on as a host of music stars in cameo roles, including Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith.
Filmed back in 2012 and edited down from an eight-hour first cut, Song to Song contains all the visual finesse and beauty we’ve come to expect from Malick. His camera never fails to impress, whirling elegantly around its protagonists as they go to gigs, parties and sun-dappled beaches. There’s some simply sumptuous images on display here, but what elevates Song to Song above his other recent work is its emotional impact and profundity.
This depth emanates from the charming scenes shared between BV and Faye as they meet, goof around and fall in love. Malick skilfully captures these warm interactions and moments of intimacy in exquisitely framed shots, which endow every moment with an emotional weight.
Gosling and Mara are both on the top of their game too, producing an empathetic, heartfelt chemistry between typically sparse Malick characterisations. Unfortunately, Fassbender and Portman are unable to transcend the set of character clichés that accompany their occupations and they become secondary to Gosling and Mara’s alluring dynamic.
Like all Malick’s work, Song to Song grapples with some hefty themes, such as monogamy, identity and superficiality. And while the film tackles these ideas perceptively, Malick’s detached form begins to unravel, as Song to Song draws to a close. The ending is in need of more developed characters and context, but Malick’s approach doesn’t waver and the film concludes as elliptically as it started.
While guilty of self-indulgence, Song to Song is a profound, poetic and visually dazzling return to form for the director.
Song to Song is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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