Told in a series of visual and auditory fits and starts, Terrence Malick’s Song to Song is arty, pretentious, unsatisfying, and ultimately pointless.
The Production: 2/5
Told in a series of visual and auditory fits and starts, Terrence Malick’s Song to Song is arty, pretentious, unsatisfying, and ultimately pointless. With a raft of award-winning actors any director would salivate to work with, Malick has crafted an overly familiar triangle love story threaded through the rock music scene but with neither enough music nor enough drama to provide an illuminating or stimulating moviegoing experience. Known for his unusual film motifs which sometimes work wonders but more recently have often gone awry, Song to Song is a most frustrating viewing experience.
A sexually insatiable music producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) has his eye on the soft-spoken girl friend Faye (Rooney Mara) of one his top songwriters BV (Ryan Gosling). He manages momentarily to lure her away from her lover with a record contract of her own and his own sexual and high living charms, but when she realizes that she was merely one in a string of conquests for the music mogul, she confesses all to BV and they break up. Each of the trio then experiments emotionally with new relationships: Cook with a waitress (Natalie Portman), BV with someone he meets at a party (Cate Blanchett), and Faye with a wealthy Frenchwoman (Berenice Marlohe), but none of them prove satisfying.
Director Terrence Malick’s screenplay is a story told in bursts of punctuation: exclamation marks, ellipses, dashes, commas, and periods. Most of the voices we hear are the inner murmurings of various characters as we watch them play out tiny snippets in their varying relationships, but no scene lasts longer than a few seconds, and no building of characters is possible using this kind of narrative shorthand. Because their lives revolve around the music business, we see them interact (mostly parenthetically) with music icons like Patti Smith, John Lydon, Iggy Pop, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, but music is only an infrequent visitor to the film even if it is titled Song to Song, and with the drama from the interpersonal relationships all but squeezed out of the mix leaving us merely with the breathtaking montage of images that Malick spreads before us, the movie is a lethargic two-hour bore. Yes, even with three Oscar winners in the cast (Portman, Blanchett, Holly Hunter as Portman’s mother) and the three leads (Mara, Fassbender, Gosling) sporting Oscar nominations of their own, this is one of the most criminally ill-used casts in recent memory. There ought to be a law.
Of the leads, Rooney Mara gets the most screen time, shown is a variety of wigs early on and posed and prodded into the most provocative of stances, she comes closest to building something of a character for her to play. Ryan Gosling gives it the ole college try, too, trying to build a character from the few scraps of material Malick has given him, but there simply isn’t enough there to help us understand why the relationship with Blanchett’s Amanda didn’t work and what Mara’s Faye has that is so special (she does appear to be catnip to men and women in the film, but her charms, at least here, are rather elusive). Michael Fassbender’s top-billed, but his Cook is definitely sent to the back burner for long stretches of the second half of the film. He seems almost the devil incarnate, dangling tantalizing deals and riches to anyone he covets and indulging in sexual four ways with Portman and a couple of hookers frequently. But there is nothing under the surface of his tempting menace and he quickly ceases to be interesting. Other actors are similarly short-changed: the wonderful Linda Emond plays Gosling’s mother who knows he’s with the wrong woman in a couple of quick scenes. Val Kilmer makes the weirdest appearance chainsawing an amplifier during a concert and being summarily hauled off the stage, and Holly Hunter sinks in despair as her daughter finds her only escape from the clutches of devil Fassbender (but was that her only escape? If so, why?)
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully reproduced in 2160p using the HEVC codec. This is one of those odd UHD films which does not have HDR enhancement, so the 709 color space is used here rather than the 2020 color space found on other UHD discs with HDR. The film is certainly bright enough (though there are plenty of places where highlights might have made the picture even more stunning), and sharpness is first-rate throughout. Color is beautifully presented, too, with believable and appealing skin tones and nicely saturated colors especially in the scenes around luxury pools and a sequence shot in Mexico. Contrast has been consistently applied to give the image a crispness and clarity that is very rewarding, and black levels are excellent. The movie has been divided into 20 chapters.
The film offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix that is perfect for the film as it’s being presented here. All of the voiceover, steam of consciousness narration work has been placed in the center channel. The occasional music riffs from bands, from the piano, and with other instruments get an excellent spread through the fronts and rears, and the occasional atmospheric effect also gets proper placement when it occurs.
Special Features: 1/5
There are no bonus features on the UHD disc. The bonuses are contained on the enclosed Blu-ray disc:
The Music Behind the Movie (2:01, HD): producers Sarah Green and Ken Kao and actors Natalie Portman and Michael Fassbender express delight in the Austin music scene that’s depicted in the movie.
Promo Trailers (HD): Knight of Cups, New Life, The Infiltrator, Wish Upon.
An exercise in dramatic futility, Terrence Malick’s Song to Song wastes a stunning cast of actors in a trivial story told in piecemeal fashion by the always provocative director. The video and audio quality of the disc is stunning, but it’s all in service of an idea that simply doesn’t work.