BROAD GREEN PICTURES (2017)
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman
Return of the Malick.
The arty dodger is back with his third film in as many years. Where the previous two dealt with love via tarot and the birth and death of our Universe, Song to Song centres round the Austin music scene - specifically SXSW – and the painstakingly artistic search for an authentic life. There’s no wild deviation from the Malickverse to be found here, so if you aren’t a disciple of the Terrence, buckle up for a long ride.
I’m not a disciple.
Set to beautiful and abstract imagery, the narrative is informed via multiple voiceovers or conversational pieces fading in and out of earshot – whispers over rolling tides, murmurs against women hiding behind curtains, Iggy Pop delivering wisdom appearing as if he had been poured onto a couch as a fleshy liquid – and follows a love triangle between the beautiful three of Austin. Ryan Gosling is a likeable but hot-headed musician named BV, Michael Fassbender the Lucifer-like music producer Cook and Rooney Mara’s Faye is a wannabe musician caught in their affections. Cook promises BV the world, anything he wants, if he signs up to his record label and by extension signing his life away for flashy suit jackets and glass cubed houses. Faye receives a similar offer and also gets paid in Cook sex, though we never see why she is such an up-and-coming musician. When BV and Faye hook up, Cook’s actions become more volatile and eventually he lures a young waitress (Portman) into his seductive world of lucre, sex and drugs. The struggle for an ordinary life begins – but what is ordinary?
Malick’s film making approach is undeniably attractive, the movie is full of stunning imagery, gorgeous locations and keenly framed shots. The high shots overlooking the city are a joy to look at and the scenes between Faye and BV contribute mainly to the dreamy mise-en-scène. Alluring shots, however, do not solely make a fine movie.
The lack of prose is replaced by poetic messages, grand statements about monogamy and nature, and sweeping insights into the different mind sets of individuals, but never anything that scratches the surface - BV is shown to be good because he loves his mother, Cook is bad because he has a big house, does orangutan moves and is an all-round pervert. Faye seems more of a dreamer, spending most of the movie twirling around and staring, stuck in between her desires for both men. The performers are all OK throughout in mostly improvised on-screen roles – Gosling is always appealing, Fassbender is devilishly predatory, Mara has the light air of a nu-festival goer (all flowers in the hair, there’s a heavy hipster aura throughout) and Portman is quietly very good as the conflicted waitress caught in Cook’s crosshairs. Cate Blanchett appears as a rebound love interest, but adds little and Bérénice Marlohe, Val Kilmer (chainsaw wielding), Lykke Li and Holly Hunter all appear throughout with varying success. Covering the musical aspect, there are fleeting cameos from the likes of Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Flea, Florence Welch, Anthony Keidis and The Black Lips – very much cameos. In order to keep the (already bloated) runtime down, Christian Bale, Benicio del Toro, Boyd Holbrook and Trevate Rhodes all had voiceovers/roles cut from the movie, though I doubt any of them could have elevated this any higher.
The languid, consistent pace of the movie is its Achilles heel. Piecing together the movie in order to follow is a maze within itself as time passes and fluctuates at will and the jarring transitions do nothing to help the flow of the movie (the lack of structure is damaging – every good song needs structure, movies are no different). With nothing or nobody tangible enough to want to follow, the burning desire to simply not bother rages like a forest fire. I am fully aware of the Malick-isms, and I fully understand his vision and methods of cinematic execution, I simply just don’t like it here and it doesn’t work.
After the zig-zag nature of the movie, it ends on a predictable and generally satisfying enough note, everybody gets what they want (or deserve) and the world moves on even as the seemingly never-ending festival concludes. It’s a beautifully dull artistic slog to get to the end though.
If you’re a fan of Malick, you’ll no doubt love this. If you aren’t, or are new to his works, this will not convert you at all.
“Mercy was just a word. I never thought I needed it“, Faye muses during the movie – I began pleading for mercy as the movie laboured on. Gorgeous to look at, dreary to watch.
The movie poster is cool though.
August 13th 2017