Sundance 2017 may have already wrapped up, but some of the highlights from last year’s festival are still, slowly, making their way to theaters across the country. Sure, Oscar may be on everyone’s mind, and cinephiles are either catching up with nominees that are finally making the rounds or anxiously awaiting those films we’ll be talking about one full year from now, but there are a cavalcade of new releases that, sadly, went underrated during their festival runs.
One such film is the newest feature from Treeless Mountain director So Yong Kim. Entitled Lovesong, Kim’s picture is now making its theatrical debut in New York, with a rollout imminent.
The film stars Riley Keough as a mother of one and a wife to a husband who is less than present. We watch as she tends to her energetic youngster and yet slowly become less and less sure about herself and her relationship with a husband who barely seems to acknowledge her existence. However, things change when Mindy (Jena Malone), a longtime close friend arrives for what is ostensibly a spontaneous road trip. When things suddenly take a decidedly intimate and intense turn, the film itself suddenly jars out of its quiet naturalism for a brief moment of conflict that spawns a jump forward in time where both women have seen dramatic changes in their lives. A film of subtle gestures and gazes, this muted meditation on love and friendship is a true gem of a motion picture, something that will hopefully find an audience craving a mature drama in this time of franchise pictures dumped by major studios.
Kim may be the real star of the film, but it’s hard to imagine any discussion of this film starting anywhere but it’s lead and main supporting performance. .Keough has been making a name for herself lately with superlative turns in films as wide ranging as Mad Max: Fury Road and American Honey, as well as maybe her career best role in the TV series The Girlfriend Experience, and this performance ranks squarely among her best. There’s always been a tactile energy to Keough on screen, a distinct physicality if you will, yet here its channeled into something much more focused and decidedly lived in. Melodrama could be mined from this type of narrative, and particularly the type of character Keough’s Sarah is, yet with Kim’s subtle hand narratively and visually along with Keough’s textured performance, it becomes far more engrossing. And that’s not even touching Malone’s performance. Easily one of today’s most interesting actresses, Jena Malone focuses her kinetic physicality into this performance, bringing to life a character that’s not just a catalyst for this lead’s evolution. As lived in as Keough’s performance, the chemistry between the two actresses is startling, particularly as their relationship becomes more nuanced and more grey.
That being said, Kim’s direction is also a major player in this film’s emotional resonance. Very much a character study, Lovesong is also a romance drama of sorts, turning to the romance between two distant yet incredibly close friends for its central thrust. Think of that long time friend that you may not talk to daily yet find yourself thinking about in your most nostalgic moments. This is that type of lived in friendship that is told through passing glances and subtle gestures, which Kim directs with a subtle and quiet hand. Almost Bressonian in its interest in the quiet power found within physical human communication, Kim’s direction is played in a minor key, making the most of its intimate, static frames and gorgeous naturalistic photography. Again, it’s a film driven by minimalism, and that idea is found in everything from the performances to Kim’s subdued directorial hand.
Minimalism is not new within American independent cinema. However, in few cases are films at once this quiet and yet speak so loud emotionally. Maybe you’ll connect to the performances, maybe it’ll be the humanity found in director So Yong Kim’s camera. This is the rare American indie that speaks poignantly to true human experiences in the various shades of grey they happen in. A real doozy, this film.