Yes, Terrence Malick returned to the silver screen this year with Song to Song, his fourth directorial effort in the last eight years, a stunning turnaround in terms of output considering the long gaps of time between projects in his filmography prior to 2011. Now he's just churning these things out like a madman and while his work ethic that's rivaling Ridley Scott or Takashi Miike is admirable, the quality of his recent efforts suggest he should maybe chillax, take a breather and come up with some kind of imagery or atmosphere he wants to exude before filming a movie instead of just tossing a bunch of major actors into a number of disparate locales and calling it a day.
Song to Song continues Malick's trend from Knight of Cups of relying too heavily on big-name movie stars wandering around aimlessly and aggravating amounts of whispering in lieu of actual substance. Faye (Rooney Mara) is the character we follow around the most as she strives to find a purpose in life while navigating romantic troubles that predominately stem from two individuals involved in the music biz, best buds BV (Ryan Gosling) and Cook (Michael Fassbender, continuing the steady stream of lackluster projects he's appeared in this year). Will she find purpose amidst the modern-day music scene?
Who even knows folks, all I know is that this was one helluva slog to get through. To be fair, the faint traces of humanity found here (such as the two scenes Mara's character share with her father) ensure that this at least has more of a human touch to it than the wholly sterile Knight of Cups, but such moments are all too fleeting in Song To Song. The rowdy concerts that Song to Song sets so much of its action at are supposed to be havens for escape and finding joy in connecting with total strangers through the power of music. Leave it to Malick to make such surroundings constantly dreary and devoid of personality as any hopes of this experimental drama using such gatherings as a chance to garner so much as a faint pulse of life is left in the wind.
Instead, we're left with repetitive sequences of Rooney Mara gazing wistfully around while she whispers monologues to the audience. For a filmmaker who seems to be in love with visuals, I don't know why Malick can't just let the visuals speak for themselves, too often potentially engaging imagery is undercut by monotonous voice-over work that cuts through an intended mood or atmosphere like a knife going through butter. Mara, for her part, just looks lost while Ryan Gosling seems similarly adrift and Michael Fassbender is just stuck with a lame interpretation of a greedy high-roller in the music scene.
Even the introduction of LGBT+ material into the plot, a first for a Malick film as far I'm aware, doesn't, in the form of Faye striking up a romantic relationship with a woman, doesn't allow Malick to explore new ideas or themes. Instead, it just feels like Malick is some teenager who's obsessed with watching women kiss each other and that's about all he's going to explore in terms of non-heteronormative sexuality. This is just one of the many moments where Song to Song squanders the chance of being interesting instead of plodding. Some movies may choose stlye over substance or vice versa, but Song to Song is the newest feature film from Terrence Malick to decide to eschew both elements to thoroughly tedious results.