“Song to Song” filming wrapped in Austin nearly six years ago and the world finally got a look at the Terrence Malick flick at its South by Southwest premiere Friday night.
The film is not short on star power with Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara as up-and-coming musicians, Michael Fassbender as a music producer and Natalie Portman as a waitress.
The movie features scenes all over Austin, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest and the infamous Sixth Street. So how does Malick’s tenth feature film stack up critically?
Here’s the short of it:
- The word “toxic” comes up in at least three articles on the film to describe Fassbender’s character. Yikes.
- This is a Malick film, so expect beautifully crafted shots featuring Austin’s urban landscape.
- Generally everyone understands that while the movie is described as “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene,” there’s not much Austin (nor music scene) about it.
- And while the reaction ranges from “um, okay” to “absolutely breathtaking,” the film sits at a measly 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 7 out of 10 on IMDb.
The American-Statesman’s film critic Joe Gross watched the much-hyped film during the SXSW screening on Friday night. As previously mentioned, the film doesn’t live up to its Austin music scene billing nor do the Gosling and Mara portray being a musician with much authenticity in the first place.
No wonder these two are struggling. They might as well be plumbers or lawyers or farmers for all of the songwriting they do.
Gross also touches on the “California-meets-Texas” attitude of the film, a genuine confusing identity experienced by residents of the Live Music Capital of the World.
If beloved Austinite Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song,” which opened South by Southwest on Friday, is a meditation on the shallow, flash-over-substance, Los Angeles-ization of Austin, then it is a bullseye.
The Independent’s Christopher Hooton raves about the film, calling it “life-changing.” Clearly in awe of the film, Hooton lists some “impressive things about the film,” including:
The notion of the ‘camera as a character’ is cliché, but if it were one here it would simultaneously be a drunkard lost on the way to the canapé table, a fan with reverntially documenting a star with an iPhone, and God himself.
Hooton gives the film a perfect 5-star rating, explaining that though “Song to Song” is largely “avant-garde stuff,” it all comes together perfectly.
The Guardian rates the film four out of five stars, with reviewer Jordan Hoffman describing the film as “the story of hungry souls gorging themselves at the wrong buffet.”
Hoffman demonstrates his own first-hand knowledge of Austin as he critques the film’s take on the city.
This movie about Austin features not one stout, bearded dude in an Empire Strikes Back T-shirt – and that makes it damn lie.
One bonus: Patti Smith’s unforgettable cameo.
The Wrap names three Hollywood stars given “the famous Malick chop.” Christian Bale, Benicio del Toro and Haley Bennett were sliced out of the already-ensemble cast during production despite being named in the initial casting announcement.
Both Bale and del Toro shot scenes with Malick back in 2011, with Bale’s character having a lot in common with Fassbender’s.
Fassbender’s character, a toxic music executive, was said to be so similar to Bale that no one was sure if he would be included at all, the insider added.
The Wrap goes on to call the film a “gorgeously-shot love letter to the liberal Texas city.”
Deadline focused its attention on the mind-boggling fact that the original cut of the film was eight hours long.
Malick says “Is this going to be a miniseries? We have enough to make a different movie.”
Deadline also references the film’s production quirks, including Fassbender improvising lines, Malick’s need for more meetings with film execs and directing away from behind the camera.
Whether that was in fact the case here or not, Song to Song has a spontaneity that is very apparent – and that’s just fine with Malick.
Mashable probably has the least kind review of the film. Their headline reads, “Terrence Malick is just embarrassing movie stars with weird sex stuff right now.”
Josh Dickey writes the film is a buffet of things we’ve come to expect of Malick, including actors Keeping Austin Weird with each other in an impressively long list of ways.
Here’s where it all devolves into a muddled pastiche of Malick clichés: gorgeous nature shots, hissy-whispering nonsensical voice-over, and his latest kick, which is two movie stars — pick a combination, any combination — in a room, or a field, or a puddle, doing incredibly weird things to each other’s bodies.
Dickey also reminds readers this is definitely not a film about the Austin music scene.
Speaking of the music industry — don’t be fooled, SXSW fans. Song to Song says about as much about the Austin music scene as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift says about the Austin music scene.
So is “Song to Song” worth movie fare? Decide for yourself when the film hits theaters nationwide March 17.
MORE RELATED CONTENT: