Film, 2017, 3.5 stars
Directed by: So Yong Kim
Written By: So Yong Kim and Bradley Rust Gray
Let’s not beat around the bush here - Riley Keough is a preternaturally beautiful woman. Destined to spend her entire life with the moniker “Elvis Presley’s granddaughter”, she was also destined to share his otherworldly charisma and beautiful eyes. I first discovered Keough in The Girlfriend Experience, the TV adaptation of the Steven Soderburgh film, where she bravely took on the role of a high-priced call girl with a level of abandon that was as shocking as it was liberating. Here, she takes on a role that is decidedly more low key than that one, or her manic turn in Daisy Jones & The Six, or as a Breeder in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Lovesong is a quiet, sensual exploration of love, family, friendship, and loneliness. It could be called minimalist, and so it is, with its long lingering looks often taking the place of what would normally be endless exposition. In the hands of lesser actresses it would have been a disaster. Luckily, we have two young women who are just coming into their formidable powers, and the result is mesmerising.
We begin with Sarah (Keough), who is struggling at home in a rural town with a young daughter. We are led to understand that her husband is often out of town on endless business trips, and Sarah’s depression and boredom threatens to drag her into a drug-fuelled downward spiral.
Enter the vivacious Mindy (Jena Malone of The Hunger Games fame) who arrives like a breath of fresh air into Sarah’s life. Her mere presence seems to pull Sarah out of herself and into the world. They explore the bounds of their friendship, talk, laugh, and take Sarah’s daughter Jessie on a road trip. They also get drunk and begin to explore something deeper, with a tentative but soulful kiss.
While the kiss seems to embolden and delight Sarah, opening up a new perspective on the world, Mindy spirals and seems shocked by her own behaviour. She announces suddenly that she has to leave, and abruptly returns to her life in New York, leaving Sarah bewildered and stunned.
Director So Yong Kim then produces a stunning transition. Suddenly, we are flung 3 years into the future as Sarah drives confidently towards an unknown destination. This is a whole new person. She has visibly flung off her shackles, and presumably she has ditched the deadbeat, absent husband. Her eyes are bright, and her hair is well cut, coloured and shiny, without a trace of the frizzy, dry nightmare it was before. She is free of the gaunt and haunted expression of years past.
We discover that she is on her way to attend Mindy’s wedding, and it seems they have had very little contact in the years since their last romantic encounter. When they meet again Mindy is now the one who is skittish, lacking in confidence, wracked with pre-wedding jitters. Her hair is now a fiery red, completing our visual transformation of the two women into different evolutions of themselves. We start to wonder, could there still be something they have in common? A memory of the past?
What follows is a breaking down of barriers and an exploration of an old friendship that was almost more (and almost is again!). In a bittersweet finale we see an emotional reckoning between the women that determines their future. It would be giving too much away to say whether this future is together or apart.
Despite all that, and despite the serious emotions that are explored, discarded, poked, prodded, and picked up again, nothing really actually happens in Lovesong. You have to prepare yourself for that. Sarah’s eyes have more dialogue than she does - or at least it feels that way considering how much Keough uses them to communicate.
This is the kind of quiet drama that you really don’t see much of anymore. It’s brave, and was obviously driven by a director’s singular vision. She knew exactly what she wanted to evoke and how to capture that feeling on camera. She wants to explore the very nature of love, but she needs your patience and faith to hang in there as the story slowly unfurls. If you allow yourself to be swept away in it, the film rewards your faith in spades.