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Director Malick shapes Mara, Fassbender and Gosling into an equilateral triangle of desire
Van Redin—Broad Green Pictures

In casting romantic heroines, director Terrence Malick favors slender wraiths who are easily picked up and twirled around by their moony-eyed beaux. If this is your idea of romantic bliss, don’t miss Song to Song, in which the wrenlike–and exceedingly twirlable–Rooney Mara plays Faye, an aspiring songwriter who’s torn between two lovers and feeling like a fool. Michael Fassbender’s Cook is a rich Austin music-biz playboy who might help her with her so-called career. (Not that we ever see her working. Once or twice she straps on a guitar, though she clearly has no idea how to play the thing–it dangles there like Flavor Flav’s clock.) But Faye’s real love is goofball swain BV (Ryan Gosling), a moderately successful singer-songwriter who happens to be a close friend of Cook’s. Loving both of them is breaking all the rules, though it’s easy to see why they’re entranced by her. She’s winsome, drifty, characteristically Malickian. Cate Blanchett, tall, cool and self-possessed, shows up for a scene or two, but apparently she’s too hard to lift.

Song to Song features every stylistic trick in the Malick playbook: skies dotted with lustrous clouds, characters murmuring their deepest thoughts in voice-over (“I forget what I am. Whose I am.”), birds and butterflies flitting around like silent, restless witnesses. Song to Song is slightly less pretentious than Malick’s last film, the 2015 sigh of ennui Knight of Cups, though it features just as many miniature actresses. Malick alumnus Natalie Portman shows up here too, as a waitress turned trophy wife. She’s so petite and darling, you just want to scoop her up. And sure enough, someone does.

This appears in the April 03, 2017 issue of TIME.

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