Synopsis: The relationship between two friends deepens during an impromptu road trip. (Source)
Most of us have a handful of friends who are there through thick and thin. I’m not talking about acquaintances or fair-weathered companions that are only around when they see fit – I’m talking about the friends that know and love us because of our faults. Lovesong, directed by So Yong Kim, is about such a friendship, a love that transcends time and goes deeper than words. Told with searing emotional authenticity, her latest lives up to its name, a narrative ballad that seeps into our soul like red wine soaking into white linen. Giving two emotionally bare performances, stars Riley Keough and Jena Malone are an utter joy to watch, imbuing the film with its soul, and resulting in one of the year’s most affecting experiences.
Sarah (Riley Keough) and her precocious 3-year old daughter Jessie (played by both Jessie and Sky Ok Gray) are inseparable. They love each other and Sarah is more than happy to spend every waking hour with her daughter. Still, there’s a silent sadness between the two that goes unsaid – Jessie’s father and Sarah’s husband, Dean (Cary Joji Fukunaga), is a non-entity, occupying himself with work and increasingly never in the same state. It’s an absence that silently eats away at Sarah, and a burden she carries by herself. When Sarah’s longtime friend Mindy (Jena Malone) comes to visit from out of town, she, Sarah and Jessie embark on an impromptu road trip. Set amidst the backdrop of small-town America, feelings between Sarah and Mindy develop but are quashed when Mindy suddenly leaves. 3 years later, the pair reunite and confront their relationship amidst new lives.
The most special thing about Kim’s film is that it’s spontaneous, organic and feels totally genuine. Spilling in and out of fairs, hotel rooms, restaurants and more, the film feels almost like a chamber piece, focusing squarely on Sarah and Mindy while everything around them fades to the background. In that way, the film takes on an almost doc-style realism that views both women at their most unguarded and sincere, stripping them from any societal perception to show who they truly are. It’s a wonderful way to let these characters and their feelings flourish without any distraction, and thanks to some electric chemistry, nothing else matters when they’re together on screen. An early game of Truth or Drink reveals insecurities and desire, segueing into an inexplicable affection that becomes as much about what isn’t said than what is, celebrating a bond that exists in the space between sisterhood, confidant and lover. Unfolding through 2 contrasting acts separated by a sizable time gap, the film’s back half eschews any genre tropes and ends with understated grace and restraint.
Taking an unobtrusive approach to her directing, Kim allows the truth in Riley Keough and Jena Malone’s performances anchor the film. As Sarah, Keough delivers a highly internalized performance that speaks volumes through subtly. There’s a pain in her eyes, but also a hope that lives side-by-side, giving a texture to her performances that is completely relatable, as she tries to confront her emotions and be honest with herself. As Mindy, Malone commands the screen. She’s like a whirlwind who contrasts sharply with Sarah, acting almost as her strength and weakness. The film is right to stay tethered to Sarah, but Malone’s Mindy isn’t given the short shrift and is allowed a depth in which she flourishes. It isn’t a stretch to call the film a performance piece, and together these two are hypnotic, conveying a deep devotion that’s undefinable and leaps off the screen. Sky and Jessie Gray (Kim’s daughters), who play Jessie at 3 and 6 are also a delight to have around. They’re another endearing part of the film, and an innocence that nicely frames Sarah and Mindy’s relationship as it weathers time and distance.
Lovesong is proof that there still isn’t any greater spectacle than the human spirit. So Yong Kim’s latest is warm and tender, with a delicate touch that most directors might spend their whole life trying to evoke. Essentially a hang out film, we don’t want this intoxicating portrait of affection to end and are rarely treated to women who are allowed to be viewed without any emotional filter. Like any fleeting romance, the film is ultimately all too brief, but it sticks with us, and in the end, we’re better for just having experienced it.