A definite step up from Knight of Cups, and it’s the first Malick I’ve been able to see in theaters since Tree of Life, so I was thrillingly overwhelmed with all the big-screen majesty. It’s also less distracted from story and character than usual – the camera sticks with our four leads instead of wandering into the woods looking for sunlight behind leaves.
Carrying on in the shoes of world-weary architect Sean Penn, brooding broken-family-man Ben Affleck, and tortured screenwriter Christian Bale, we’ve got up-and-coming musicians Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara. They’d make a cute couple, but get caught up with wickedly charismatic, morally corrosive industry man Michael Fassbender, end up going on their own journeys around the edges of music festivals, while Fassbender latches onto innocent waitress Natalie Portman, spoils and destroys her.
It’s another universal soul-searching story, not about the music business any more than Knight of Cups was about filmmaking or To The Wonder was about environmental inspection, much to the disappointment of music bloggers who watched it at SXSW hoping for the ultimate music-festival film but getting only brief scenes of Iggy Pop and John Lydon, glimpses of Rooney Mara onstage with a guitar, and a recurring, philosophizing Patti Smith.
Sicinski didn’t love it:
Here we see Malick’s cultural conservatism once again in play, where music is a mere conduit for parsing out Manichean divisions of Good (Ryan Gosling, “creation”) and Evil (Fassbender, “the business”). Mara is presented as the Lost One, who has to go through various stages of Pensive Narration (and some awfully random lesbianism) to find her way to the Good. Her initial desire, to “live from song to song,” must be replaced by broader, more complex (narrative) thinking, a love that moves toward a telos. This is incredibly condescending; we know that Malick has a Woman Problem, and Song to Song pretty much rolls it out for all to see.