[Screen It]

"SONG TO SONG"
(2017) (Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Three people involved in the Austin music scene contend with being in a love triangle.
PLOT:
BV (RYAN GOSLING) is a man whose life seems to be good. Not only is he making it as a songwriter in the Austin, Texas music scene, but he's also dating Faye (ROONEY MARA), a young woman likewise trying to give it a go in the world of music. Unbeknownst to BV, Faye is also dating Cook (MICHAEL FASSBENDER), a music promoter who just so happens to be BV's boss and mentor. Cook is aware of Faye sleeping with his protégé, but doesn't seem to mind, what with having a thing for two women and one man threesomes in his bed.

He eventually meets former teacher turned waitress Rhonda (NATALIE PORTMAN) and sweeps her off her feet, all while BV eventually learns of Faye's involvement with Cook. That leads to a break-up where he eventually dates Amanda (CATE BLANCHETT), while Faye begins a lesbian fling with Zoey (BERENICE MARLOHE), all as the concert and music scene in the city continues to play.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Imagine a film that features performers who've collectively earned twenty Oscar nominations (and are not Meryl Streep), revolves around the music scene in Austin, Texas, and features a long triangle between the three leads. Sounds enticing yes? The trailer for "Song to Song" certainly makes the film look good and maybe even great.

But let me warn you, folks, unless you view director Terrence Malick as a filmmaking god who can do no wrong, this is a bust of a movie. A pretty looking one, mind you, but a bust nonetheless, and in more ways than one.

For those for whom the director's name doesn't ring a bell, he made a big splash in the 1970s with "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven" and then completely disappeared from the world of cinema until reemerging with the 7-time Oscar nominated "The Thin Red Line" in 1998.

That was followed by the Jamestown settlement flick "The New World" in 2005 and the 3-time Oscar-nominated "The Tree of Life" six years later. But "To The Wonder" was dismissed by critics and audiences alike (it had a worldwide box office gross of $2.7 million) and "Knight of Cups" fared even worse.

That's likely due to the free form storytelling nature the filmmaker (who also penned the script, what that it is) has embraced, and this offering takes that even further, but in the wrong direction. With just about every scene ending up interchangeable with the rest (and that doesn't even include the apparent non-linear aspect based on the lead actress' ever-changing hairstyle from one scene to the next) and with likely no difference in terms of how things play out, the film is a two-plus hour rambling mess.

To make matters worse, its level of pretentiousness is suffocating (it actually has the look and feel of a "Saturday Night Live" fake movie skit that would take such artistic qualities to ridiculous levels), its waste of talent, subject matter and music setting is criminal, and it makes the most cardinal movie sin of all -- it tells rather than shows.

Any novice screenwriter knows the writing mantra of "show, don't tell" when it comes to penning a screenplay. In other words, you allow the characters and events to depict the story, its themes and emotions rather than relying solely on multiple character voice-over narration to handle not just the heavy lifting, but all of the storytelling.

Yes, diehard Malick fanatics will argue that all of the pretty pictures are there to do that, but that's just fans jockeying to be as pretentious as the filmmaker and his offering. And the narration isn't anything more than psychobabble standing in for something truly meaningful, profound or engaging.

The pic is anything but any of that as it tells the tale of some sort of music promoter (Michael Fassbender), his protégé (Ryan Gosling), and the woman they both are sleeping with (Rooney Mara). We see scene after scene of brief views and quick edits of the two couples in close contact (Malick seems particularly fixated on midriffs, not only regarding Mara, but the other women who show up), with Gosling's character seemingly unaware that his girlfriend is also dating his boss.

That might have proved to be intriguing or at least marginally interesting to some degree, but all of those quick moments, symbolic imagery and so on don't allow us into the souls of these people. We're merely voyeurs who hear and quickly become annoyed with introspective narration that could easily be boiled down to just a few words for the same effect.

Fassbender's character then meets a pretty waitress (Natalie Portman) in a tight (and yes, midriff-revealing) top, sweeps her off her feet, and gets her involved in his kinky penchant for three-way romps in the sack. Gosling and Mara's characters break up and he begins dating a woman we know absolutely nothing about (Cate Blanchett) while our female lead starts fooling around with a French woman (Bérénice Marlohe) who likewise remains a mystery outside of her lesbianism. While those developments might sound promising to one degree or another, they're anything but as we eventually realize -- long before the end credits mercifully begin rolling -- that any sort of narrative storytelling is going to be a moot point.

Anyone hoping for some solace in at least getting to hear some good music with the Austin setting will likewise be disappointed as Malick seems more interested in showing the likes of Flea (of The Red Hot Chili Peppers), Patti Smith and Iggy Pop backstage rather than onstage. And despite Gosling tickling the ivories once again following the same in "La La Land," that's also a letdown, which also holds true for the performances. Thankfully, none of them stink up the place, but they're simply left high and dry by the filmmaker, while the likes of Holly Hunter and Val Kilmer are barely visible in a few scant moments of screen time. Others who shot footage -- such as Christian Bale -- ended up on the cutting room floor.

If you think I'm being too critical or alone in not appreciating unconventional, artsy films, a significant number of people walked out of our screening, another was loudly snoring, and the man behind me literally stated -- as we rounded the two-hour mark -- "Please God, let it be over." I felt the same way.

Other than some striking cinematography at times (courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki) and the presence of a great cast, "Song to Song" hits all of the wrong notes nearly all of the time. I'll admit that another review I've seen is correct in stating the film is life-changing. Yes, that's true, as in it robs you of two hours you'll never get back. The film rates as a generous 3 out of 10 only for the pretty visuals.




Reviewed March 20, 2017 / Posted March 24, 2017


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