Film Review: Lovesong

Discretion is the better part of boredom here.
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The sometimes-but-not-always joys of single motherhood are what gets Sarah (Riley Keough) through the day with her adorable three-year-old, Jessie (Jessie Ok Gray). Actually, she’s married to Dean (“True Detective” director Cary Joji Fukunaga), but he’s so distant, both emotionally and often physically, due to his career, that she may as well be raising the kid on her own. A road trip with her childhood pal Mindy (Jena Malone) seems just the ticket. But, driving along, it gradually becomes apparent that this friendship may be veering into something more intimate.

Lovesong keeps you kind of guessing as to just how deep these two dip their toes in the lady pond, and then the story picks up a few years later, with Sarah now on her way to Nashville, where Mindy is about to wed affable Leif (Ryan Eggold), accompanied by a welter of largely unexpressed mixed emotions.

When Brokeback Mountain opened to seemingly universal acclaim by audiences across the board, I made the comment, “It’s a gay movie made by straight people,” and I feel rather the same about this entry. I don’t know anything about Korean director So Yong Kim personally, except that she is married with children and now makes films which largely focus on white characters. The females in Lovesong are primarily Caucasian, young, slim and nubile—no pesky butch dykes here, man. They’re not far off from the kind of fantasy lesbians straight men dream about, with Keough and Malone so physically similar as to be somewhat indistinct from each other. Kim treats their affair with nearly as much tastefully dull (and unconvincing) reticence as Ang Lee did the guy-on-guy action in Brokeback, preferring endless, hesitantly unsure dialogue scenes between them as they feel each other out (but not in any low-minded physical sense).

Sarah is the much more tightly wound of the two, but she is also more sincere and straightforward than flirtatious Mindy, who enjoys getting sloshed and under people’s skin, regardless of gender. Their relationship through the years remains more murky, if deeply affectionate and sometimes challenged, than anything else—due, I suppose, to Kim’s attempt to instill a sense of feminine mystery and complexity here. (Colette did this sort of thing far better, using words with a richness and suggestiveness, two appealing qualities lacking in this basically wan effort.) And, cruel as this may sound, it’s all a great big bore—wispy, WASP-y and very low-key tempest-in-a-teapot stuff, inevitably accompanied by droning folk-rock dirges for added indie cred.

Performance-wise, Malone manages to bring some puppyish appeal to her more proactive tease of a role, especially in the “Will she? Won’t she?” bridal section of the movie, while Keough (American Honey), although delicately pretty, is just too bland here to make us care about the road she’s personally traveling. (It’s all shy, sidelong glances and delicately tentative groping, anyway.) The men are, well, there (with Fukunaga only glimpsed on Skype). Rosanna Arquette lends some fitful spark to the film as Mindy’s nosy, estranged mother—that ’80s babe, who once inspired rock anthems, makes an amusingly querulous matron.

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