I came to Song to Song from a bit of a strange place. I adore a lot of Terrence Malick’s earlier films – sure, they will often frustrate, but they are also capable of moments of beauty that transcend the form.
But Malick’s last two films, To the Wonder and Knight of Cups (with Natalie), left me mostly frustrated and cold. What used to feel poetic now felt unfocused and forced. What used to leave a deep impression now felt shallow.
Song to Song doesn’t quite get back to making me feel how I did about his earlier work, but there are moments that reminded me of those films. Don’t get me wrong, I still wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone. It’s going to be maddening for anyone looking for a narrative to hold onto. But in the music, tragedy and striking images, there was enough for me to remain engaged throughout.
What bothered me the most was the feeling that there is a genuinely great film in Song to Song. One in which the poetic-meandering and whispered introspection enhance more conventional scenes. One gets the impressions that there isn’t a scene in the film, certainly one in which two people are connecting, that lasts more than a minute. It’s like day dreaming about a past love – you experience small moments of meaning in a haphazard manner. Darting from thought to thought. Never really playing out any particular moment to its full extent.
When they aren’t your memories, it’s just too free of context to consistently give a damn.
As for the performances, for that very reason it’s so hard to judge. This might have been Rooney Mara’s finest work…she certainly gives it her all and is the light that makes the film as watchable as it is. But just as we feel her emotion in a scene, just as she’s building to something, off we go to another place in time. It’s like trying to corral bubbles.
As for Natalie, she’s not in the film as much as I would have hoped. Probably a similar amount of screen time as Knight of Cups, although her first appearance is a lot earlier. She looks gorgeous, with the blonde and busty(er) look helping her inhabit a more (typically) sexual role. She also shares one of the more powerful moments in the film with a (I assume) non-actress delivering a powerful (and probably truthful) account of her life to Natalie’s character.
There are the outlines of a powerful story for the character, but unfortunately, as with the film as a whole, they feel more like an early rough sketch more than a finished work.
For the moments that are sublime, for the glimpse into the music world, and for Rooney I’d give it a 7/10.