Terrence Malick, the reclusive filmmaker behind The Tree of Life and the more recent Knight of Cups, made a rare public appearance at the SXSW Film Festival Saturday, the morning after the festival kick-off premiere of his latest movie Song to Song, set within the Austin music scene. But is it any good?
According to EW’s Joe McGovern, that’s a no. “In terms of content and meaningfulness, Terrence Malick’s Song to Song is the cinematic equivalent of a Trump press conference,” he wrote among the first round of reviews for the film. “Incoherent, disconnected, self-interrupting, obsessed with pointless minutiae and crammed full of odd, limp stabs at profundity from a closed-off man in his 70s who apparently has no ability to edit or accept constructive criticism.”
Despite a few scattered Fresh ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, other critics seemed to agree. The film splattered with a 33 percent Rotten score on the site, as more reviews continue to hit the airwaves.
Song to Song stars Rooney Mara and Ryan Gosling as a pair of musicians who fall in love, while Michael Fassbender plays the sleazy music executive who threatens their relationship. The cast also includes Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Holly Hunter, Val Kilmer, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop.
Read reviews of the film out of SXSW below.
Joe McGovern (Entertainment Weekly)
“Indeed, though the movie is too dull and silly to get worked up over, you’ll find yourself searching in the margins of each shot for something or someone tangible to grasp onto. The cameos by famous musicians in the film are tedious (and lingering on Iggy Pop’s leathery chest is a gag that felt old 20 years ago) but Malick does discover one shard of grace in the casting of Patti Smith as herself. She’s only onscreen for about two minutes, but when she’s there, with that extraordinarily real, unglamorous face and those eyes that have seen so much, you briefly feel in the presence of wisdom. It’s amazing, quite frankly, that Malick didn’t leave her on the cutting room floor.”
Peter Debruge (Variety)
“It pains me to say it, but Malick might want to consider another lengthy hiatus. Rushed into production mere months after his nearly-self-parodic, Hollywood-set Knight of Cups, Song to Song finds the maestro in broken-record mode, rehashing more or less the same themes against the backdrop of the Austin music scene — merely the latest borderline-awful Malick movie that risks to undermine the genius and mystery of his best work.”
Eric Kohn (Indiewire)
“There are reasons to delight in the autonomy of Malick’s poetic approach, particularly the way he treasures the lyricism of the natural world over narrative coherence, but that vision can only go so far. His cosmic IMAX documentary The Voyage of Time had a logical reason for throwing plot to the wind, but other recent efforts Knight of Cups and To the Wonder reduce the magisterial approach of Tree of Life to undercooked fragments. The latest example is Song to Song, an occasionally marvelous but redundant collage of moments from Austin’s music scene. There’s plenty of intrigue to the dissonance of a hard-rock lifestyle and Malick’s gentle touch, but much of the movie’s potential is overshadowed by the impulses of a director unwilling to get there.”
John DeFore (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Ersatz local color aside, suffice to say that Song to Song is not designed to win back onetime admirers who felt Malick’s To the Wonder and Knight of Cups drowned in their own navels. Though offering the occasional radiant moment (usually involving scenery), it is of a piece with those films, and is unlikely to fare much better at the box office. If it does, credit the draw of Ryan Gosling, whose younger fans will be wholly unprepared for what they get (and don’t get) here.”
Erin Whitney (ScreenCrush)
“The power of the movie lies in those snapshots, moments that could be a page ripped out of anyone’s story – the moment when you found out a loved one died, when you first locked eyes with someone, or a perfect romance became tainted with doubt. Malick has found a way to translate how a familiar song has the ability to transport you back to a particular time and conjure a specific set of emotions. Whatever he’s been exploring over the past few years pays off here. Song to Song is far from his strongest film, but it’s his best and most exciting work since The Tree of Life. If you’re willing to practice some patience and let Malick’s images wash over you, you might just find something magnificent here.”
Jordan Hoffman (The Guardian)
“There’s nothing in Song to Song to suggest wild interpretations aren’t encouraged. This is a movie that will frequently snap to images free of context, such as footage of old Soviet cinema cutting to a meal scene outside an Austin food truck. There’s also plenty of conspicuous fish-eye lenses in the gorgeous and often empty modern apartments (Faye works as an estate agent). There isn’t a moment in the film that is granted a simple, mundane exhibition.”
Song to Song opens in limited release March 17.