At the start of American auteur Terrence Malick's last movie, the complex and critically panned Knight of Cups, a note appeared on screen directing theatre proprietors, publicists, home viewers — really, anyone with a copy of the film and a screen — to "play it loud."
For some reason, even though most of the story in his latest film, Song to Song, unfolds over hushed, confessional whispers and conversations (and is set within Austin's bustling music scene), was given no such direction. That's because Song to Song doesn't really have anything to do with music, at least deeper than the surface, and unlike some of his more difficult films, isn't hard to follow.
This isn't Malick's attempt at this generation's Singles; rather, it's an exploration of modern relationships and the things that drive us, especially in the age of entertainment, where the world's at your fingertips and FOMO is a borderline medical condition. The visuals are stunning — filled with swooping camera work, shots that seem to defy gravity and edits that alternate between handheld and professional footage with ease — but what's at stake for viewers is way less meaty, compared to his more recent work. That's probably going to delight and equally piss off some fans, depending on how you feel about his current career trajectory and last few films.
The film stars Rooney Mara as Faye (a budding songwriter with baggage), Ryan Gosling as BV (a musician on the verge of selling out), Michael Fassbender as Cook (an egotistical and emotionally bankrupt music producer), Natalie Portman as Rhonda (a teacher-turned-waitress), Cate Blanchett as Amanda (a mature woman who seemingly has it all) and Bérénice Marlohe as Zoey (a wealthy French expat living stateside).
Early on in the film, in one of Song to Song's many asides, Mara's character poetically states, "We thought we could just roll and tumble / live from song to song / kiss to kiss." But Song to Song isn't the mixtape of emotions its many characters and storylines would make one believe. Instead, it's like the cinematic equivalent of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85-92: a meandering and occasionally jarring journey, but a unifying experience nonetheless. Things ebb and flow as all of their relationships become intertwined, but it's Faye's and BV's that stands out, as the two begin to understand that more experiences don't always add more value to their lives, and all that glitters isn't gold when money is at stake.
Music fans will enjoy the cameos in the film: the Black Lips, Neon Indian, Iggy Pop and Lykke Li all make appearances, trying to give the characters (and perhaps the movie itself) cachet, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers wrestle each other in one scene. Even Patti Smith appears as the only musician with a key role here, acting as a sort of spiritual guide to Faye at key moments throughout the film. It's a little ridiculous, but it's part of a package that makes Song to Song one of Malick's most accessible movies in years. Take that as you may. (eOne)