Written and directed by Terrence Malick, Song to Song is an experimental love story set in Austin, Texas and its respective music scene that involves two songwriters/musicians, a music mogul, and a waitress as they all take part in a strange love affair. The film is an offbeat love story that doesn’t feature a traditional script as it play into people living at the moment through all sorts of entanglements in their love for each other and for the music. Starring Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Val Kilmer, Holly Hunter, Berenice Marlohe, Lykke Li, and Cate Blanchett. Song to Song is a rapturous and evocative film from Terrence Malick.
Set mainly in Austin, Texas in its respective music and arts scene, the film revolves around two songwriters/musicians, a music mogul, and a waitress as they all take part in whirlwind of a love affair that would each play into their ambitions and desires. It’s a film that doesn’t have much plot nor does it feature a traditional narrative due to the fact that its writer/director Terrence Malick didn’t write a script and created everything through notes and what he can capture on film. Yet, the film plays more into the themes of these four people who all meet as they fall in love but deal with temptation, doubt, and the search for meaning. Especially as Faye (Rooney Mara) is trying to make it into the music industry as she falls for the slightly-successful BV (Ryan Gosling) as she gets him to meet music mogul/lover Cook (Michael Fassbender). Yet, Faye continues her tumultuous affair with Cook who would marry the waitress Rhonda (Natalie Portman) but things go into strange turns due to Cook wanting to engage more into his decadent lifestyle with Faye and BV both trying to find something.
Malick’s direction definitely plays into the loose nature of the film’s unconventional narrative as it has this sense of freewheeling approach in the way he films everything around him. Shot largely on location near and in Austin, Texas with some shots in Mexico for a scene where BV, Faye, and Cook take a trip to Mexico. The usage of wide and medium shots not only allow Malick to get a look into the surroundings that these characters encounter but also in its connection with the world itself. Even as Malick would have characters also encounter elements of nature as it play into their search for love and identity while also encountering the chaos in the Austin music scene. The camera would often be in the middle of the action whether it’s in a mosh pit or people dancing in a rave. Malick’s close-ups add to the film’s unconventional tone as he always play into these characters and all of the highs and lows they endure as the four principle characters of Faye, BV, Cook, and Rhonda also express their feelings through voice-over narration.
Though the film centers on this music and arts scene in Austin, there are also these spiritual elements in the film though a lot of is subtle as it relates to journeys of these four characters. Notably as Faye is filled with doubt over her relationship with BV who has some issues with Cook over business reasons. Even as she learned that BV has been in a past relationship with Swedish singer Lykke Li and another former flame in Amanda (Cate Blanchett) whom he would briefly reconnect despite the fact that Faye would also continue her tumultuous affair with Cook to the point that he would have her and Rhonda in a brief three-way affair. Cook is this metaphoric figure of temptation and decadence who would often lure Faye into his world to the point that Rhonda feels neglected, lost, and yearning for answers leading her to go to the world of faith. The usage of music plays into this idea of people bringing together yet it is also used for decadence in Cook who continuously tries to find some sort of meaning through drugs and partying.
The film’s third act is about the journeys that these four characters endure where Malick showcases this air of loss through the trappings of temptation and decadence with some trying to find a bigger meaning in their lives with others forced to accept reality as well as cope with some of their poor decisions. Still, there are people who do give them some guidance as a way to cope with loss but also on love as Malick brings that sense of reality and gracefulness to show that as hard as the world can hit someone. It is all about getting hit and taking it to move forward as it play into the story that these four characters endure. While there’s a lot that is happening and can meander at times due to the film’s lack of a conventional narrative, Malick is able to maintain something that is more of a thematic study set against this culture of music and art with the four people at the center of it. Overall, Malick crafts an intoxicating and compelling about four people going through their own desires, doubts, and identity issues in Austin, Texas.
Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of natural lighting, available light, different film stocks, and digital photography adds to the look of the film with its vibrant colors as it is a major highlight of the film. Editors Rehman Nizar Ali, Hank Corwin, and Keith Fraase do amazing work with the editing with its stylish approach to jump-cuts and rhythmic cuts as it play into the film’s dream-like and gliding tone. Production designer Jack Fisk, with set decorator David Hack and art director Ruth De Jong, does brilliant work with the look of the homes of the characters including the hotel that Cook often parties at or the look of the stages at the South by Southwest music festival.
Costume designer Jacqueline West does excellent work with the costumes with its mixture of casual and stylish clothing including some of the designer clothes that some of the richer characters wear as well as the look of the music performers in the film. Sound designers Joel Dougherty and Will Patterson do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as how music sounds live and on stage as well as the way the voiceover narrations are mixed. Music supervisor Lauren Mikus does fantastic work with the film’s music soundtrack with its mixture of classical, rock, indie, electronic music, and other kinds ranging from classical cuts from Zbigniew Preisner, Gustav Mahler, Camile Saint-Saens, Maurice Ravel, Nicholas Britell, Avro Part, and Claude Debussy along with music from Iggy Pop, Public Image Ltd., the Black Lips, Florence + the Machines, Lykke Li, Patti Smith, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Dylan, Elmore James, Del Shannon, Neon Indian, and many others.
The casting by Francine Maisler and Lauren Grey is wonderful as it feature cameos from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Lydon, Florence Welch, Iggy Pop, Tegan & Sara, Die Antwoord, and the Black Lips as themselves as well as Swedish artist Lykke Li as a fictional version of herself as a former flame of BV and American punk rock legend Patti Smith as a woman who is helping Faye with a lot of advice about art and life. Other notable small roles include Linda Edmond as BV’s mother, Tom Sturridge and Austin Amelio as BV’s younger brothers, Val Kilmer as one of Cook’s clients in a performer named Duane, Dana Falconberry as Faye’s sister, Brady Coleman as Faye’s father, Neely Bingham as BV’s ailing father, and Holly Hunter in a fantastic performance as Rhonda’s mother Miranda who is eager to have a life without trouble but becomes concerned for her daughter’s well-being. Berenice Marlohe is excellent as the French artist Zoey whom Faye meets and has a brief affair with as a woman who would give Faye some attention. Cate Blanchett is brilliant in her small role as Amanda who is a former flame of BV as she rekindles her relationship with him but realizes there’s some cracks in the relationship.
Natalie Portman is incredible as Rhonda as a waitress/former kindergarten teacher who falls for Cook as she is tempted by what he offers but finds herself lost in his decadent lifestyle as she seeks to find something with more meaning. Michael Fassbender is amazing as Cook as a music mogul who is a man that offers a lot and wants to be part of the fun but gets upset whenever he doesn’t get what he wants as he is this charming figure of corruption and temptation. Ryan Gosling is remarkable as BV as a successful musician trying to figure out what to do next as he falls for Faye while dealing with some business and personal issues with Cook as it is a somber performance from Gosling as someone who has seen a lot and is searching for answers. Finally, there's Rooney Mara in a phenomenal performance as Faye as a musician trying to get her break despite her attachment with Cook and her growing feelings for BV as it has this air of radiance and anguish as it is one of Mara’s finest performances to date.
Song to Song is a sensational film from Terrence Malick. Featuring a great ensemble cast, rapturous visuals, a rich music soundtrack, and themes of identity, doubt, and temptation against the backdrop of a vibrant music and arts scene in Austin, Texas. It is a film that explore four people trying to find their way in the world in the music scene as well as endure many ideas despite the film’s unconventional narrative and lack of a strong plot which won’t appeal to a lot of people. In the end, Song to Song is a phenomenal film from Terrence Malick.
Terrence Malick Films: Badlands - Days of Heaven - The Thin Red Line - The New World - The Tree of Life - To the Wonder - Knight of Cups - Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience - (Voyage of Time: Life's Journey) – A Hidden Life – (The Way of the Wind)
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