On the one hand, I liked that, for what seems like the first time since The New World Malick has actors as characters in scenes where they, you know, have dialog exchanges and we get to see how they interact and learn about each other. It's not a lot of the time, but it shows that when Malick sat down with the actors and, whether it was improvised or not, got them to figure out how these people would talk to one another, whatever shades (or not) of depth there would be - and this isn't just the main cast but, say, small scenes between Mara's Faye and Faye's father, or BV (Gosling) with his mother, or any of Patti Smith's scenes - it's a joy to see these actors work off one another. If Malick had actually been working from a script, as opposed to no script at all, he might have had one of his best films.
On the other hand, and I can't believe I'm saying this, I may be getting tired of "Chivo" Lubezki's cinematography, at least in this case after so many Malick films. It's a strange thing to say since when one sees The New World or especially The Tree of Life, they're nothing short of photographic tour-de-forces, things that we haven't seen in cinematic grammar before as far as how he uses the lenses and the natural light, at least in such a way as it is. But while he has the good instinct sometimes to push in or pull out on an actor when they're talking, and of course the light through (there are a lot of) windows, or outside, is beautiful (it can't help but be anything but and there's no synonyms left for it), I kind of wished there wasn't such a hodge-podge of technical approaches here.
And meanwhile on the one hand this is a film that has Iggy Pop, Flea and Patti Smith in cameos (and Smith even gets to have something like a character, probably more than Holly Hunter or Cate Blanchett probably), and it certainly captures the Austin music scene with vitality and energy and gets how it's intoxicating to see the audience and to be so close to the stage or backstage and, to another extent, hanging around Michael Fassbender (who, despite working without a script net, shows why he's so good as an actor first, movie star second, understanding how to just be in a room looking and listening can have weight). Also all of the main cast have insanely good chemistry together, both physically and mentally (mostly physically), and I think Gosling and Mara are a good fit for a Malick world.
On the other hand, this line: "I don't like to see the birds in the sky because I'll miss you" or this line "Mercy was a word. I never thought I needed it." Yeah.
And, on top of the narration which is, mostly here, the absolute worst that Malick's had in his films - some of it's laughable, other times it's horrible, and even in Knight of Cups I didn't feel this way, though to an extent I did with 'Wonder' - I felt bad for actors in the second half of the movie who seemed adrift, maybe with more character material on the cutting room floor (there's another *six hours* of this), like Blanchett or Berenice Marlohe. Both of these women play the love interests of the respective Gosling and Mara characters after they split up (why they do would both take too long and not be worth the effort for its simplicity), but even compared to everyone else I didn't get a sense of who they were as people.
I'm not talking about this as if it's a problem as far as something intentional that a filmmaker does where they leave some mystery with the people and we have to read into things (with Faye, I think Mara actually does a whole lot with a little, at least from what we can see, and her performance came the closest to making me care about a character on screen - I thought almost the same could've been for Portman's Rhonda, but she leaves the film for so long stretches I forgot that her conflict was so shallow, but I digress). What I mean is more that I had no idea why the two ex-lovebirds would go with these people, what they mean to them, what they do for them, and why Blanchett's character becomes so sad for not much reason (BV's mother warns him off of her at one point because... she's sad, that's it), and Marlohe gets even less.
So with Song to Song, I know it sounds like I'm coming down on it harshly, but it's because I expect a great deal from this director, and want him to do well. The problem though in general is that at 129 minutes it feels too long, which is a strange thing to note considering that there's, I must stress, SIX OTHER HOURS of footage, so I'm not sure if it could use being like 20 even 30 minutes shorter, or another hour longer or so. There's scenes that get surprisingly close to the emotional depths that Malick could get at back in his prime 70's days with his actors, and they're game for making a romance film full of highs and lows. But the more "Malick" touches with how memories and impressions and nature and the city of Austin and who knows what else blends in with the story is hit or miss at best and distractingly precious and bad at worst (I probably neglected to write down other glaringly dumb lines).
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