Song to Song: Terrence Malick’s worst film yet

This incoherent muddle of falling leaves, cameos and tracking shots has nowhere to go

Song to Song
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Director: Terrence Malick
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Lykke Li, Val Kilmer
Running Time: 2 hrs 9 mins

There comes a moment in Terrence Malick's latest, poorest cinematic venture when Michael Fassbender, playing an ill-defined music mogul on an ill-defined holiday, begins hopping and gambolling about like a chimpanzee. It's a worrying spectacle, leaving the viewer to ponder whether he is faking it to get out of this dreadful movie, or if the direness of the project around him has brought about a genuinely psychotic episode.

If Malick's King of Cups and vast stretches of To the Wonder felt like the outtakes from perfume commercials, Song to Song is the outtakes from those outtakes, an incoherent muddle of falling leaves and cameos and tracking shots with no particular place to go. Everything is. Shot in. Infuriating. Ellipses. Accompanied by. Dazed, cod-poetic. Voice-over. Delivered by. Actors who. Sound as if. Conor McGregor just caught them with an upper-cut. Emmanuel Lubezki's pretty wide-angle photography is accordingly tipsy.

Song to Song apparently concerns a love triangle between an aspiring singer-songwriter (Gosling), his boss (Fassbender) and the secretary-dog-walker (Mara) who is sleeping with them both, evidently as an ill-thought-out career move. She is also a budding songwriter. Such vital information, however, may only be gleaned through the film's promotional materials, because it sure as hell isn't in the movie.

Taking cues from Tommy Wiseau's notorious 2003 film The Room, Fassbender's character isn't named until the closing credits, and other characters wander in and out like it's an A-list instalment of Noel's House Party. That's not Mr Blobby, we think: that's Iggy Pop. Was that Val Kilmer? Cate Blanchett is doing what now? Oh, she's gone already; never mind.


Many dresses are unzipped, with power-ballad slowness and a f*cklessness that accidentally recalls the famous Naked Gun safe sex scene.  Everybody lives in modern chrome and glass minimalist marvels, apparently constructed for over-the-shoulder cinematography and housing unused kitchens. The narration gets sillier by the second. Mara opens with fluid teen-journalese ("I went through a period where sex had to be violent: I was desperate to feel something real") and quickly descends into 1970s Eurovision break-up song speak: "Thought we'd build each other up, make music together" or "Birds would like to fly forever".

Remember when Terrence Malick movies happened once in a geological age? God be with the days.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic