Visually stunning, yet narratively confused, So Yong Kim’s Lovesong takes audiences on a journey through naturalized landscapes and character in order to explore the fluidity and wide expanse of female relationships. Set somewhere in the East Coast nature, Kim’s quiet road trip story attempts to blur the societal lines of love through the changing relationship of two young women influenced by their environments and the other relationships surrounding them. While lines are crossed and love is re-envisioned, Kim’s love story journeys too far into this confusion and digs itself into a storytelling hole, essentially lost to significance.
Lovesong follows Sarah (Riley Keough, Mad Max: Fury Road), a young wife and mother left largely on her own to parent her three-year-old daughter while her husband travels for work (featuring a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance from True Detective director Cary Fukunaga). The introduction of Mindy (Jena Malone, Sucker Punch), Sarah’s childhood and college friend, during a lost weekend, divides the plot between an impromptu road trip that quickly turns intimate and Mindy’s wedding three years later, testing the closeness of their relationship in a highly public setting.
This unique two act structure works perfectly for the story. In one instance, the audience witnesses the development of a friendship transform into a brewing attraction and deeper connection in a private and magnified environment. This allows the story to establish Sarah and Mindy’s intimacy away from prying eyes or outside pressures. The second half of the film, however, thrusts the pair into an occasion symbolizing a blatant and public declaration of love, essentially asking them to outperform that performance. Throughout the film their relationship is tested, sometimes by themselves (their own fears and insecurities, or Sarah’s desire to keep her family together), and at other times by those around them. They both even struggle to define love in other ways, as a parent, a daughter, a fiancé, or wife, let alone as a friend or lover.
Surrounding Sarah and Mindy throughout are gorgeous and natural settings, with the pair of them stylized as well to reflect their environments. In the first half, the women look like the fauna of each scene they inhabit. Kim opts for makeup-free, disheveled styling, allowing the natural beauty of the women to shine through and create a pure and organic space for their emotions to wholly move the story. In the second half, we see Sarah fumbling through her eye shadow application to join the wedding party celebrations while Mindy sports a new vibrantly red dye job. In a constructed atmosphere (one of those catalog cabin-style weddings carefully cultivated and planned to look natural), Sarah and Mindy fall off balance around each other.
Unfortunately, the confusion brought to the relationship by the wedding spectacle never fully allows their feelings to recover. The last two scenes make a serious attempt at catharsis, but it feels greatly forced. Both Keough and Malone do tremendous work in building the relationship largely out of feeling – from emotionally charged glances to sexually charged tension. Kim does not even include a sex scene, but chooses to have the girls mention one after the fact, which keeps their relationship intimate and personal, but also prevents the audience from fully experiencing their love. Aside from them privately declaring their love for one another in a last ditch effort for closeness, Kim ends up confusing the relationship onscreen and leaves that love unexplored.
The mutual introduction and exclusion of several characters adds to the confusion as well. Ryan Eggold (TV’s The Blacklist) as Mindy’s aesthetically pleasing musician husband-to-be and Brooklyn Decker (Just Go with It) as Mindy’s unexpected work friend turned maid of honor provide periodic interruptions within the story, but don’t add much aside from a commentary on the fabrication of an idealized wedding. Even Sarah’s daughter, played at different times by sisters Jessie and Sky Ok Gray, while clearly adorable and scene-stealing, serves more as a narrative filler more than possibly a non-traditional look at motherhood and family. Typical familial roles, marriages, and other love-based relationships are all put under a microscope by Kim, but she never gives the audience a clear opinion or vision.
Verdict: 2 out of 5
Lovesong’s visual attraction outshines its story. The settings are gorgeous and the actors are equally beautiful in their performances, but the love story, if it is in fact love (it feels like nothing more than a confused friendship for most of the film) never gets the opportunity to take off or define itself. It is very possible that Kim’s point is to present an undefinable love – something truly unconditional – but she also prevents the story from reaching that conclusion. The unique plot structure and visual conceits make a commendable attempt at meaning, but in the end the audience is left begging the question “so what?”