This time, instead of Christian Bale playing a Hollywood screenwriter, we have a trio involved in the Austin music scene: two musicians named Faye and BV (played by Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling, respectively) and a record company executive named Cook (played by Michael Fassbender). And… things happen. They meet each other, start dating, break up, date other people, get back together. They meet other people (the film also includes Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett), have affairs, go to rock shows, and narrate long voice-overs about the meaning of life. At one point Faye mentions that she thought she could live “song to song”, and as far as I can tell that is supposed to be what this movie is about.
But here’s the rub. As anyone who’s ever watched a Malick film knows, his films always place more emphasis on visuals and tone and mood than traditional characterization or plot. But all in all of his post-Tree of Life films the characterization and plot are stretched so thin as to be non-existent. I don’t mind when his earlier films take flights of fancy, but without some sort of plot to ground the movie I can’t care about the airy spirituality he so loves to talk about in his films. In The Tree of Life, the experimental portions were grounded by a family shook by a loss of faith from the death of a son and the loss of innocence, while The Thin Red Line explores the psychological effect of war on soldiers. Without this grounding, Song to Song ends up feeling more like a slideshow of (admittedly gorgeous) pictures rather than a movie, since movies are supposed to have a narrative.
This is not helped by the fact that Malick’s last three films (including Knight of Cups and To the Wonder) all feel like the same story told repeatedly. They’re all about very successful and attractive people who are unable to find love despite having relationships with numerous other attractive people. We get it Malick: you have a lot of regret from past relationships, but please make a movie about something else already. Or, if you’re going to keep making movies like this, at least mix it up a bit in terms of the people and places in your films. Cast some people other than the Hollywood A listers you always use, and go with your incredible cinematographer (Emmanuel Lubezki) and create some beautiful movies in South America or Asia or anywhere other than Texas and Los Angeles.
I know that I’m repeating a lot of the same things I wrote about Knight of Cups, but I can’t help it since they’re basically the same movie. Even if you’re a die-hard Malick fan like me, I’d hesitate to recommend this movie to you. Although I’ll probably be disappointed again, I do hope that since Malick’s next film, Radegund, is a historical drama it will force him to actually use a script again. Hope springs eternal, I suppose.