Faye (Mara) and BV (Gosling) are struggling musicians in love looking to break into the Austin scene. Help comes in the form of flashy mogul Cook (Fassbender), with whom Faye has been having an ongoing affair. When BV discovers Faye has been cheating and Cook has acquired fifty percent of his royalties, he splits and hooks up with Amanda (Cate Blanchett). Meanwhile Faye enjoys a dalliance with wealthy artist (Berenice Marlohe) and Cook falls for waitress Rhonda (Portman) and goes about turning her into a star…
While Song To Song is slightly better than Malick's recent efforts it still can't stop the rot. Something is up - Malick has lost his touch since, what this writer believes to be his masterpiece, The Tree of Life. Why? Did absence make the heart grow fonder (three movies in twenty-five years has become four in six years)? Film critic John Maguire of the Sunday Business Post opines that it's the contemporary settings of late that are rocking the apple cart: it's difficult to be whimsical and nostalgic and dreamy about today.
My theory is that Malick has stopped writing about the underdog. He's gone from lovers on the run (Badlands), poor farm labourers (Days Of Heaven), grunts (Thin Red Line) and oppressed women (The New World) to financially comfortable businessmen (To The Wonder), rich screenwriters (Knight of Cups) and, here, musicians who hang back stage with Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Patti Smith. The expensive apartments, plush houses and lavish grounds Gosling, Mara and Fassbender wander around don't invoke empathy with their plight (if there is one). Plus, the jobs/ambitions he gives his characters have become completely interchangeable: we never saw Christian Bale write a word in Knight… and Gosling and Mara's musicians are rarely seen with an instrument in their hands. What his characters do don't matter anymore. And it should. It must.
Malick has stripped his stories right back. He now burrows into a feeling – loss of love? Regret? – and expands it out to an entire film, exploring all its corners in his typical abstract fashion. "I could go on for hours with one chord," Smith says at one point. So can the writer-director. In doing so the audience never fully understands why characters do or say anything: it’s difficult to see, looks aside, why Mara is drawn to a cad like Fassbender, or what Gosling sees in Blanchett, or Fassbender in Portman. Despite narrations from the three leads there's isn't enough info on them to understand their actions and thoughts – Song To Song is all too snapshot and surface. Gosling and Mara look like they’re going through the motions. There's little or no love in this film about love.