LOVESONG screened as a part of the U.S. Dramatic category at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. For more information, head here.
Lovesong is a quiet sort of film that relies more on the feelings it evokes rather than explanation. Rarely is anything explained or told through words, but rather its looks and body language and everything that isn’t said.
The film focuses on the friendship between young mother Sarah (Riley Keough, most memorably in Mad Max: Fury Road with fiery red hair and a personality to match) and her old college friend Mindy (Jena Malone, most recently kicking ass in the Hunger Games franchise). Sarah is frustrated and isolated at home—her husband travels for work, leaving her at home alone with their young daughter. She invites Mindy to visit and the three embark on a road trip.
Mindy is the opposite of Sarah: carefree, flirty, unapologetic. Despite not having seen each other for so long, their connection is obvious and comforting—a level of intimacy that most of us could only wish for in a friendship. It doesn’t take her long to coax Sarah out of her slump and soon the two are pulling a late-nighter, sharing drinks and reminiscing over college adventures. That friendship intimacy gives way to something stronger, but before it can be explored further, Mindy abruptly abandons the road trip and Sarah.
Fast forward three years and Sarah and a Jessie, almost seven now, are heading to Mindy’s for her wedding. It’s a stark contrast to the time they spent together years prior on their road trip. Intimacy is replaced with the rush and frantic energy that only a wedding can create. It’s clear Sarah and Mindy have barely talked since that road trip, but there is still something unspoken between them that neither can deny.
Lovesong wouldn’t be nearly as powerful without amazing, nuanced performances from Keough and Malone. Each are able to convey exactly what their characters are thinking and feeling without ever saying a word. The best scene in the entire movie takes place on a fast-moving ferris wheel. Sarah and Mindy are seated across from each other, staring at one another. The rest of the world fades away and mutes and the only thing that matters is the two of them. And not a single word is spoken.
Director So Yong Kim doesn’t rely on exposition, so all of our understanding of Sarah and Mindy is based solely on Malone and Keough’s dialogue-light performances. And the performances are enhanced with beautiful, thoughtful cinematography and a haunting score. Cinematographers Kat Westergaard (part one) and Guy Godfree (part two) make use of surrounding landscapes to ground the story and intimate close-ups to make it feel even cozier and more dream-like (especially in part one). And, well, if you don’t know composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s work yet, get out from under that rock already. He’s only responsible for some of the best scores of the past few years (Sicario, The Theory of Everything, Prisoners).
The film may be frustrating for some, as it doesn’t try to make any grand, singular statements about relationships. Instead, much like real life, it leaves a lot of things unanswered and confused. Are Sarah and Mindy friends? More than friends? Lovesong might not have all the answers, nor should it because it’s worth going along for the ride just to feel something.
Siân Melton covered Sundance for us live from Park City, Utah. Read about her other work, including her Toronto-based film series The MUFF Society, below.