Song to Song



17 March 2017| No Comments on Song to Song     by Sean Chavel


I’d like to say Terrence Malick is a man with too many great ideas, but again this time, he’s simply a man with too many ideas. Song to Song has three intersecting love triangles set against the Austin, Texas music scene, but for the viewer it is an exercise in exasperation as you watch an impetuous filmmaker shoot-the-works as he goes off many, many tangents that is an affront to cohesiveness. Only audiences who have a mastery understanding in avante-garde films should give this a try.

What brought down Malick’s previous out-there feature “Knight of Cups” was making Christian Bale a void of a character, and as a result, it was existential heavy. “Song to Song” has actual characters, and the screen is shared by Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Michael Fassbender. To set the tone right away, Mara contemplates of her life with her boyfriend, “Every kiss felt like half of what it should be.” All I could think was, in Malick movies, he presents all his characters as sensual and pretty erotic, so what is there for any of these people to complain about? The message is, obvious to me, is that these characters are not grateful of what love they have until they lose it and only cherish it after they have reclaimed it.

Malick lays out so much deep pondering, and yes, some of it is groan-worthy. “I took sex, a gift, and played with it. I played with the flame of life.” You wonder if some of it came from scribbles from the director’s notebook while awaking from a dream at four in the morning.

“Song to Song’s” strongest asset, without a doubt, is Fassbender. If you can manage to sludge your way through the film, perhaps you can align your agreement with mine as to why Fassbender is perhaps the greatest living actor at the moment. Fassbender is a great movie star even in a self-indulgent indie like this one, he is the one most naturally shrewd and self-assured with improvisation, and while his spoiled rich record producer character may be hermetically sealed from reality he makes his character larger than life. Fassbender also reeks of dangerous sex appeal, much like his character in “Shame,” but in what is a true actor’s test, he makes this character named Cook a completely new hedonistic individual. I don’t think it was the movie’s intention, but Fassbender makes dark sex look good.

Mara gets some props for playing the groovy, risk-taking chick believably – but there’s not much to analyze here, to sum it up, she loves and she loves not and feels lots of guilt for all of it. As for Gosling, I love him in just about every movie, but he doesn’t fare well here. That’s not his fault, for it is because he doesn’t have a three-dimensional character to play. Gosling is a hot musician on the rise whose girlfriend Mara sleeps with Fassbender, over and over again it seems, and Fassbender is both buddy-buddy and a backstabber at the same time. The most ridiculous thing about “Song to Song” however is that we never actually see Gosling perform as a musician! It’s not as if the movie didn’t have the budget, or access, to do such a scene since there is some stage performance footage at the Austin music fest (Val Kilmer and Mara perform together, weirdly, but after Kilmer takes a chainsaw to a music speaker Malick drowns it out for voiceover narration). Oh yes, I digress, what about Gosling? Gosling is too busy trying to be an improvisational actor for Malick, that he’s more of a poetic pawn for Malick’s statements than a character. I hand it to Gosling, however, that my heart was touched by the closing passages of the film when his character moves away from the music scene and becomes a newfound man. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse if I tell you most viewers won’t get that far.

Song to Song_Portman_NatalieNatalie Portman has some poignant moments too as a waitress who is seduced and destroyed by Fassbender. Again, what a remarkable actress she is since she has to go through a believable tonal shift from head over heels in love to destroyed chick. After Fassbender gets her to join him on his self-destructive bender, Portman ponders him, “When I was a girl I loved everyone… you killed my love.” Portman wears a lot of emotion on her face, making me believe she has a peerless gift. She was recently superb in “Jackie” as the widow to our slain President John F. Kennedy. That had a full-bodied script, here she does lots with very little.

I have two disconnected thoughts on “Song for Song.”

One, Malick is a master filmmaker who continually breaks convention and experiments outside the norm and doesn’t care to play by Hollywood’s formulaic rules because he is able to make films outside of the Hollywood system. He is, of course, the man who made “The Tree of Life” (2011) and “The Thin Red Line” (1998), two films that I can watch over and over again obsessively, as if I’m committed to life to unlocking further enigmas to them. I equally adore his two early ones, “Badlands” (1973) and “Days of Heaven.” I don’t know why he has decided to make these minor doodles the last few years like “Song to Song,” “Knight of Cups” and (even) “To the Wonder” when he is capable of thinking up and brewing much more on a grand scale.

Two, while “Song to Song” is just over two hours, Malick shifts gears so many times that it feels like you’re watching it for five hours. Reportedly, Malick’s rough cut ran eight hours so talk about a guy with too much time on his hands. Still, if you have some serious patience, there are some terrific moments, most of them consist of Fassbender and Portman.

Also with Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Berenice Marlohe, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, some odd colorful locals, and some very luxurious Texas real estate.

129 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Husbands and Wives” (1992); “Shame” (2011); “To the Wonder” (2013); “Knight of Cups” (2016).

Song to Song_2017 Movie Malick_Poster

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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