If someone asked me for a plot summary of Song to Song, I would say it was about 129 minutes more than I could endure. An embarrassing debacle from the once-amazing Terrence Malick, Song to Song is a full 129 minutes long and, for the record, I checked my watch repeatedly—the most satisfying moments of a screening that seemed like eternity.
Song to Song will make its way to Boise on Friday, April 7. Following its premiere at the 2017 SXSW festival, Entertainment Weekly described the film as "incoherent, disconnected, self-interrupting, obsessed with pointless minutiae and crammed full of odd, limp stabs at profundity." To that, I might say ditto, ditto and ditto.
Writer/director Malick has moments of brilliance, much like a crack addicted graffiti artist might be a genius in moments of sobriety. Look, I'll tell anybody who will listen that Malick's early films—Badlands (1973) and Day of Heaven (1978)—are cinema classics. The films of Malick's second and third acts (he took two almost 10-year hiatuses between films) have been exercises in increasing monotony. From The Thin Red Line (1998) through Song to Song, I have been continually stunned to learn a film editor had been employed for his projects. They're a mess, and Song to Song in particular feels as if it's a slap-dash reel of outtakes. It's a director's cut with no direction.
On paper, Song to Song probably sounded like a winner to its distributor, Broad Green Pictures (pity them). It stars Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara. It uses the indie rock music scene as a foundation and is framed by the SXSW Music Festival in Austin. Fleshed out by Malick, his actors' performances are cringe inducing. We don't believe for a moment that any of the characters have a thimbleful of musical talent and Malick presents us with a carpetbagger's view of Austin, showing landscapes of the eclectic Texas capital usually reserved for a one-day stopover.
As for the script, don't get me started. Actually, it never really gets started. Nearly 30 minutes go by before we hear a line of dialogue: "We thought we could roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss," says Mara's character. That bit of wispy prose may seem promising, but when it has zero connection to a plot or character development, what dialogue there is falls flat, indulgent and shallow.
Song to Song also features some equally embarrassing cameos from the likes of Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and Val Kilmer—each of them appearing as if they can't wait to get off screen. Tragically, there is plenty of talent on screen. The actors, a few of them Oscar winners, are capable of greatness and award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman) is one of the industry's best. Alas, bad things do happen to good people.
Following the disastrous premiere of Song to Song at SXSW in March, Malick made a rare appearance at the festival to talk about his unconventional filmmaking. During his talk, Malick confirmed that he doesn't like to storyboard to prepare for films, rather, he uses "bits and pieces" of his characters. He also admitted the first-cut of Song to Song was eight hours long and he regretted having to trim it. On second thought, he added, it should have been released as a cable television mini-series.
One more reason to cut the cord.