Song to Song feels like a long, deeply thematic hedonistic dream. Its beautiful, poetic and artistically brilliant whilst at the same time, its methodically slow pace and alternate view on film making makes for a jarring, uncomfortable watch. Its a difficult one to review because on the one hand, Director Terence Malick manages to effortlessly convey a unique way of story-telling through the four protagonists but his polarising view to conventional ways of making a film may well alienate a lot of people who will find this overlong, slow and boring.
Set against the music scene in Austin, Texas, Song To Song follows four characters as they struggle to make a name for themselves in the music scene. Struggling song writers Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling) are the focal points of the film as their dreamy narration sets the tone of the film and they try to become music stars whilst wrapped up in their own love. Rounding out the quartet is music mogul Cook (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he seduces and takes under his wing (Natalie Portman). Together, they chase success through a world of seduction, betrayal, sex and rock’n’roll. From the opening scene, its clear that this is a film that demands your full attention throughout. There’s no half measures and the rapid nature of the editing, and jumping to each character as the film plays is a little jarring and unforgiving.
It certainly won’t be for everyone and the film does take a while to get going but when it does, if you get caught in the magic of this dreamy romantic drama then its irresistible. Its extremely heavy thematically, playing with ideas of love, betrayal, sex and meaning in life whilst teasing a lot of symbology through almost every scene. You could easily pause the film at more than two dozen moments and have a stunning shot to ponder over and study. There are times where its beautiful; the artistic vision is breathtaking with the colours and camera work like a well rehearsed dance. There are also times where it feels a little too sure of itself, a little too pretentious with its vision that it comes across as arrogant and overly artistic for the sake of it. This isn’t helped by the fact the film feels too long and once the magical hold the artistic vision has is broken, its very hard to get back into it again.
Despite a talented cast, the characters feel lost with a questionable script that never quite dives as deeply into the characters as you’d expect. What we get them from the four lead characters are good performances but ultimately performances that lack direction. BV and Faye are well fleshed out and have a satisfying character arc and with the main focus on them and their love story, it almost feels like the focus should be on them for the duration of the film rather than constantly shifting the focus between the four protagonists.
Song To Song is one of the most challenging, difficult films that I’ve watched and reviewed this year if not then ever. There are times where its brilliant, like a great painting you can’t help but admire. The artistic vision is outstanding; the challenging way the film is shot, edited and told is unlike most films out there but in doing this, it may well alienate a lot of people not accustomed to this way of telling a story. The cast help to elevate it but the misguided script lacks polish and direction at crucial times. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but for those open to trying this film, its unlike anything out there at the moment and the imagery and artistic vision are enough to make this one of the most uniquely mesmerising watches in a long time.