SONG TO SONG: empty eye candy


Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling in SONG TO SONG

After sitting through what seemed like three hours of the 129-minute movie Song to Song, I have identified why I am done with auteur Terence Malick – Malick has essentially become a visual-only filmmaker.   But I think of cinema as a storytelling medium, and Malick, with all his eye candy, just can’t make me care about his story.

Ryan Gosling plays an Austin songwriter who is befriended and exploited by a twisted and extremely rich music kingpin (Michael Fassbender).  Rooney Mara’s character (purportedly another songwriter) falls for them both, and also jumps in bed with Bond Girl Bérénice Malohe’s mystery woman.  Natalie Portman plays a waitress who tragically marries Fassbender’s monstrous mogul.  An out-of-towner (Cate Blanchett) breezes in to have a fling with Gosling’s songwriter. Besides Mara and Portman, Fassbender also works his way through a series of groupies and call girls (including the most pockmarked hooker in Texas).

The movie is filled with the goofy, playful things that people do when they are flirting and seducing and in the early flush of love.  We also see (TMI?) that Malick is personally fascinated by a slow, teasing prelude to lovemaking, as ritualized as are the early stages of a bullfight, during which women wrap themselves in the curtains and get their stomachs caressed.  I like watching these usually compelling actors, but I just don’t care about these characters.    Unfortunately for her performance, Mara never seems the least bit musical or artistically inclined.

The only genuine moments in Song to Song come in scenes with the main characters’ concerned parents and two scenes with the starkly and heartbreakingly authentic singer-songwriter Pattie Smith.

There is, however,  a lot of visual interest to be found in Texas and Mexico, and Malick makes the most of it:  riverfront mansions, high-rise penthouses, beaches, cantinas, Hill Country vistas and backstage at the ACL festival.  As usual, Malick is aided by the collaboration of the master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.  No contemporary cinematographer can match Lubezki’s stunning body of work.  His work with Malick includes the wondrous The New Land.  And the three-time Oscar winner Lubezki also shot Alejandro Iñárritu’s Babel, Birdman and The Revenant and Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men and Gravity.  Lubezki’s work here is remarkable, but I find myself infuriated at wastefulness of a Malick setup that results in 2 seconds in the film, however visually glorious.

There are also what have become unfortunate Malick signatures.  Choral music by Handel always signals pretentiousness.  And Song to Song contains a completely random montage of horror scenes from silent movies – it had me waiting for the reappearance of the dinosaurs from The Tree of Life.

And here’s a scene that I found paternalistic and offensive – I guarantee you that, if you get wasted and raucous in a Mexican cantina, the Mexicans will not embrace you as those really cool gringos that they have been waiting these many years to roughhouse with.

Did not like Song to Song.

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