I just don’t get the bit with Terrence Malick. He is known for working with as little of a script as possible, which tends to turn his films into meandering messes that lack story and depth, yet actors flock to work with him in droves. Perhaps it is that openness that lets them stretch their abilities and try to convey a deeper understanding of their interpretations of the characters or just show their improvisation skills, but I truly just don’t get it.
His latest opus, “Song to Song” was one that I approached cautiously, with my hands visible. After suffering through last year’s “Knight of Cups,” I was prepared to be bored to tears with Malick’s “art for art’s sake” style that can even make the staunchest of film school students who try to break the medium’s norms with their experimentations question that anybody at all cut a check for this stuff, much less use that money to fund their specific projects. Set against the backdrop of the Austin, Texas music scene, it is the “story” of a number of characters like BV (Ryan Gosling), Cook (Michael Fassbender), Faye (Rooney Mara), and Rhonda (Natalie Portman) that have their own paths they are following as they intersect each other’s. There are also a number of other notable names here like Val Kilmer, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Iggy Pop, Johnny Rotten, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Patti Smith that try to put SOMETHING that resembles legitimacy to this thing.
I am sure that I have said this before about Malick, but maybe I am too “mainstream” to “get him,” and you know what? I am totally OK with that. I like to think of myself as someone that has a certain level of culture to him, but even this is too much for me. If I am going to commit two hours and ten minutes of my life to something, I should really get something out of it. Even taking a nap gives me a feeling of refreshment, but all “Song to Song” gave me was a solution to any feeling that I have that time moves too fast. And in the interest of full disclosure here: I didn’t even know the names of the characters until I looked up the film on IMDB right before I started writing this review; THAT is how abstract this thing gets. About 70% of it is done in voice over narration (which was probably done after everything was completed in a veiled attempt to tie any of it together), and since there was no script here, there are gaps in the dialogue that form unintentional uncomfortable silences that are simply maddening. It also felt like the timelines just jump around at will, which makes sense since it took two years to film all of this mess five years ago and had a first cut of EIGHT HOURS.
EIGHT HOURS, PEOPLE. Oh yeah, and there is a LOT of crying in here by almost every character. A LOT.
If there is anything that I can say on a positive note about “Song to Song,” it would have to be simply that it is better than “Knight of Cups” and less people walked out of this screening than there were at its predecessor. I am totally on board when a director can pull off the “slice of life” type film, but when you just roll camera and let what happens happen, you run the risk of a train that can’t fly off the rails simply because they were never really on them to begin with.