Terrence Malik is a different kind of filmmaker, he doesn’t make films the way others do, which sometimes makes for some stunning films, while other times it leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately Song to Song, with its intriguing premise, and A-List cast, is the latter, as Malick’s brand of filmmaking does not craft an engaging enough film, despite all it has going for it.
The film tells a story revolving around three main characters, and weaves between at a breakneck pace, which serves to give each of the three ample screen time, but does not spend enough valuable time with them to make any of it worth it. The story is a series of longer vignettes, and focuses on the relationships each character has together, as well as with others. The films backdrop is the music industry in Austin Texas, and it is also the most interesting element, yet it is relegated to a very minor role in the proceedings. The film casts Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, and Michael Fassbender, as the leads, though the crux of the film is the focus on the relationship between Gosling and Mara, and for good measure, as their romance is easily the most compelling of all of the ones presented. The relationships are all flawed, which is interesting to watch, but so many different ones are presented, none of which reach the level of connectivity with the audience that Gosling and Mara do. This is emphasized by the fact that it is difficult to remember a time in the film where any of the characters names are even mentioned. The issue with this approach is that when things start to go wrong for each character profiled, it lacks any impact, because the storytelling makes it hard to care about a handful of them. As the story weaves through love triangle element, each of the three main characters forms a relationship with somebody else. Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, and Bérénice Marlohe all pair up with one of the main characters, but none of them are worthwhile characters, serving more as temporary distractions, rather than ones worth caring about, so once they are introduced the film starts to drag.
Once this happens it becomes hard to be invested, especially considering that there is little dialogue between characters. Most of the film unfolds via voiceovers from the various characters, the majority of which are questions that are rhetorical in nature, meant to illicit a connection to the feelings and emotions of the main characters. This works on some level, and there are times where it adds much to the story, but there are many times where normal dialogue and storytelling would have been appreciated to move the story along.
Issues with story, and how it unfolds aside, the best aspect of this film is the cinematography. It cannot be understated how beautiful this film is, as every shot is meticulously crafted and shot, to bring an amazing look and feel to the film. Malick, and director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, employ a variety of styles to create stunning shot, after stunning shot. Lubezki is known for creating amazing looking films, having shot films like Birdman, Children of Men, and The Revenant, and this film is no exception. From the sweeping pans across scenic locations, to the handheld moments working through a crowd at a music festival, the visual choices all work together, and are fascinating to watch. The beauty of this film enhances scenes between characters, and is the true showcase, more so than the story or the acting, and as the film went on, it became easier to get lost in what you are seeing, rather than what you are hearing from the characters. The fact that the soundtrack and score are both fantastic hits this point as well, as listening to the sounds and music of this film being paired with the beauty of it, far outshine what is being depicted from the story.
That really is what Song to Song boils down to, a beautiful film experience, while not being a particularly good film. Some of the elements are worthwhile for a time, but not for the whole two-hour runtime. What stands out at the end was more how the film looks and sounds, and not what happened during it. It is interesting to think about what this film could have been had it taken a more traditional approach. Had the film featured more dialogue to tell the story, and focused more on the important characters, this film may have been something truly special. As it stands now though, the film is pretty to look at, but lacks real substance, which is a real shame.