Terrence Malick continues his surge of productivity with “Song to Song”

Once upon a time, Terrence Malick was a filmmaker who took a legendarily long amount of time between projects. He has since shrunk his turnaround time significantly, becoming, at least by his standards, rather prolific. Sadly, that’s also led to diminishing returns, at least in this writer’s humble opinion. This week, Malick unleashes another film in Song to Song, one that’s spiritually similar to his last few flicks. It’s not the outright misfire that the last two were, but it’s nowhere near the quality that he was previously known for. It’s a shame, but this might be the new normal for him. Alas.

The movie is a romantic drama set against the music scene in Austin, Texas. Plot and dialogue are essentially non-existent, but there’s a love triangle of sorts between musician BV (Ryan Gosling), aspiring musician Faye (Rooney Mara), and producer Cook (Michael Fassbender). That doesn’t take into account the introductions of Rhonda (Natalie Portman) or Zoey (Bérénice Marlohe), making for a further complicated romantic entanglement. Most of the time, it’s just impressionistic and on the indulgent side. Ultimately, it ends up too pretension to work. Malick writes and directs, while the supporting cast, mainly cameos, include Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Val Kilmer, and many more, often of the musical variety. Once again, cinematography for a Malick film is by Emmanuel Lubezki. It’s a waste of talent, though undeniably nice to look at.

Despite again attracting an A-list cast, this is still an incredibly flawed work. Better than Knight of Cups or To the Wonder, it’s still one of his weakest efforts. Gosling and Mara are fits for this style, but it wears thin early on and then becomes a real chore. It’s a shame that I can essentially repost what I wrote about his last film here. This is what I had to say about Knight of Cups, which applies to Song to Song just as well:

Simply put, I really didn’t care for this flick. All of the issues I’ve been having with Malick over his past few works are here in full force, amped up with a story about a spoiled man whining about his life but doing nothing about it. The cast is wasted, the gorgeous visuals are as well, and it all seems too quickly thrown together. The care he showed in Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line appear to be gone, in favor of a loose DIY style that just is a bad fit for the director. Maybe I’m alone in thinking this way, but I found it to be a big misfire, carrying his bad habits from To the Wonder and expanding on them. Alas. They can’t all be winners, right?

For those wondering, here is how I would rank all of Malick’s films so far to date:

1. Badlands
2. The Thin Red Line
3. The Tree of Life
4. Days of Heaven
5. Song to Song
6. To the Wonder
7. Knight of Cups

Tomorrow, fans of Malick will get another film of his in Song to Song when it begins its theatrical run. If you’ve been into his last two projects, this is a better version of that. If you’ve been disappointed of late in him, don’t expect anything to change here. This is really for completists only, or I suppose hardcore fans of Fassbender, Gosling, Mara, who do what they can and aren’t the reason this falls flat. Hopefully Malick can get back on track soon. In the meantime, this just sort of is what it is. Make of that what you will…

Feel free to check out Song to Song, in theaters starting this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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