At his very best, Terrence Malick can move the audience with an impressionist style that weaves imagery together like a constantly shifting and mesmerising puzzle in motion. At once, his imperceptible films can reveal deeply personal remembrances as well as juxtapose his characters’ plights with the vast emptiness of the cosmos. In this sense, there is a genuine wistful longing that permeates the director’s work.
Even by Malickean standards, Song to Song is frustratingly conventional. The new film from the ethereal auteur depicts the torrid love affairs between aspiring musicians and record producers in the midst of the contemporary Austin, Texas music scene.
The simplicity of the narrative results in Malick’s style coming across as overwrought and pretentious. Moreover, his characters’ various narrated thoughts are grossly explicated, often revealing nothing noteworthy other than what the audience can see in front of them.
Most egregious of all is the handling of Michael Fassbender’s record producer (Cook). He exists more as a belaboured point than a character, snarling and manically laughing like a hyena as he tempts the central heroine with promises of pleasure and wealth.
There is one scene when Malick juxtaposes Cook’s narration of his nature with an axe murderer from a vintage silent film along with a cosmic star alignment. Rather than coming across as an elegant parallel, it instead seeks to send one into an intense fit of eye-rolling.
Despite this, there are some diamonds within the rough fabric of this picture. Despite being saddled with questionable material, Rooney Mara’s performance impresses in its freeing youthful quality and moments of grim introspection. In stark contrast to many of her co-stars, Mara’s portrayal of Faye never feels self-conscious. And the subplot involving Rhonda (Natalie Portman) resonates with a palpable existential grappling and loss of identity that fundamentally adheres to the thematic concerns of Malick’s oeuvre.