Riley Keough may be a star of the stylish indie ‘American Honey’ but in ‘Lovesong’ she gives a more intimate, tender performance.
So Yong Kim’s Lovesong is perhaps the most aptly named film to screen this year. Think Bob Dylan as opposed to Katy Perry. Kim makes the realism at hand beautiful and poetic. Riley Keough and Jena Malone do their part to bring life to a drama that questions what it means to be in love.
Kim is no stranger to love and queer film — as the director of In Between Days and an episode of Transparent — it is not surprise she handles her subjects with no sense of gravitas or self-importance. The direction immediately subdues itself to give way to a performance driven piece. Sarah (Riley Keough) is mother to Jessie, a Korean American daughter who is product of a strained marriage, where the husband travels for work and is generally out of the picture. Jessie is not a sympathy device, but a character to be latched on to. The observer and explainer who never understands the full picture, but when love strikes who does? One of Sarah’s dearest and most estranged friends Mindy (Jena Malone) comes to visit for a weekend.
The two act as a couple, with their true feelings unraveled and explored throughout the film. Even from the first night at a rodeo (Setting Lovesong in Tennessee lets it be placeless, Middle America but with a twang) the dichotomy between the two is set up. Sarah is overbearing, protective and uptight. Mindy takes to the opposite role naturally, letting the lack of responsibility give her the chance to be exciting, yet everything she does is not for Jessie but for Sarah. Both are evidently perfect for their roles. Keough (The Girlfriend Experience, American Honey) proves she does not have a comfort zone, but is perhaps indie film-making’s next star. She does not takes the roles of mother, lover, and friend lightly, but combines them in a complex manor, each showing the proper vulnerability and fear. Malone is strong as well, fitting into a role more typical for her, but never letting it consume the film. Both are the star. Both are the savior and the victim of circumstance. Their vices counter each other and their energies match each other in every scene they share the screen (which coincidentally are the best in the movie.)
The time jump halfway through is deftly executed. The quality does not dip as expected, as even the masterful Moonlight has issues maintaining quality in the final third, but each half has it’s own problems. Lovesong is at it’s weakest when nostalgia plagued exposition is abundant. The history between these two is not as captivating as what is formed by the actresses on screen. The second half introduces characters whose importance come into question, and simply exist to add definition to Mindy, a disservice to Malone’s fine performance.
Still, these overarching nitpicks do no define Lovesong. The subtleties do Jessie herself shares the name of another important Jessica. Listen to when and how the “I love you’s” are spoken and to who they are addressed. Sweeping statements and dramatic caricatures (such as Mindy’s mother Eleanor, whose briskness is striking but feels unwelcome in such a delicate work) are overshadowed by the use of quiet.
Kim asks the question ‘what does it mean to say I love you?’. She doesn’t propose an answer in the form of philosophy, but shows love as a malleable emotion, one devoid of meaning in a vacuum. Still, unpacking the scenes for meaning is secondary to a film so expertly cast and directed. If this isn’t on your radar, put it there. Lovesong is sure to be an early contender for heartwarming indie darling of 2017 and a boost for the careers of all involved.
We checked out the film at the closing night of NewFest.
Lovesong comes to theaters and Netflix March 2017