Lovesong July 8, 2017
So Yong Kim
1 Hr., 24 Mins.
’m not prone to categorizing indie movies with the same reckless abandon as people who claim their favorite music genre is “indie” (which means nothing — anything can fall under the category as long as it’s not distributed by a major label), but So Yong Kim’s Lovesong (2017) feels very much like an indie movie. It’s the kind of knockoff Terrence Malick ever-bountiful these days, in which extreme close-ups and semi-improvised dialogue takes the place of, or at least overpowers, any sort of storyline that manages to make us feel something.
Lovesong is all meditative style and no sturdy substance. Kim has succeeded in concocting a feature able to find the beauty in lower middle-class living and emphasizing the bittersweetness of missed opportunities that can change the course of one's life forever. But while her structuring is careful and her pacing is languid, there is a distinct lacking of feeling that could benefit a feature such as this one.
This is a romantic film wherein a happy ending doesn’t come to fruition, after all — it, instead, is one of those age-old stories where things between the leading couple don’t work out even though we know, deep down, that they’re made for one another. A sense of loss should be profound.
In Lovesong, that aforementioned couple is Mindy and Sarah (Jena Malone and Riley Keough), lifelong best friends at a crossroads. First, we meet Sarah, who got hitched and had a child at just 21 and is now currently in a state of despair. Her husband, always traveling for work, is never home, and her inadequate social life and her isolated property have left her lonely and detached from the world around her. Mindy has been working aimless jobs and sleeping around as a way to escape, unsure of where her life's headed.
Because hopelessness is on the verge of overtaking her well-being, Sarah calls Mindy down from New York to come visit — she’s desperate for someone to talk to. The two, along with Sarah’s young daughter, go on an impromptu road trip in an effort to free themselves from their self-inflicted psychological grind, rebuilding their closeness after the time apart. And all the late nights chatting picks them up from the pessimism. This leads them to explore the possibilities of a romantic relationship.
But after they take a stab at intimacy, Sarah seems ready to return to her routine, and such doesn’t sit well with Mindy — she was hoping for something more and feels nothing but disappointment. So she spontaneously buys a train ticket back to New York. The two do not see one another for more than three years.
When that silence eventually comes to a halt, though, it is not the result of an unexpected reunion but rather by the reality that Mindy is getting married to her longtime boyfriend (Ryan Eggold). Upon Sarah’s arrival at the rehearsal dinner is there a notable tension between the two, not helped by the fact that Sarah’s maid of honor (Brooklyn Decker) reveals that she was the one who thought to invite the former, not Mindy.
But once booze-fueled pre-wedding celebrations make way, especially in the case of the inevitable bachelorette party, Mindy and Sarah start to warm up to one another once again — and reignite the flame that briefly burned all those years ago.
Lovesong is not bound to end on a satisfying note, since Kim is so infatuated with naturalism and thus chooses an ending more likely to arrive in the real world than in an exaggeratively cinematic one. This would work if Lovesong’s strokes were broader, if the romance were more electric. But what she gets wrong with the movie is her emphasis on listlessness and atmosphere — it’s so overbearing it smothers the central romance, which is never quite potent enough to make any of what we’re seeing much matter. The ending doesn’t affect because Mindy and Sarah’s relationship always felt unsubstantial anyway.
But Keough and Malone turn in superlative performances, facing the challenges presented by Kim’s loose, humanistic style and attacking them head on. The absence of a spark is not because of a deficiency of chemistry but because their director doesn’t really seem to know what to do with them. Lovesong has its moments — there’s no denying the beauty of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s wistful cinematography, and Kim’s improv-imitating style suits the film’s lighter scenes. But the movie feels more like a missed opportunity than anything: had it had more fire in its belly, we’d maybe have something as impactful as Blue is the Warmest Color (2013). Someday, we’ll find something. But not this time. C+