Pin Terrence Malick's work down these days -- tease a story or philosophy out of it -- and you're usually faced with something simple, almost corny, that seems to undercut the spellbinding invention of his filmmaking. For all the worldly experimentalism of his style, when Malick's characters actually do "experiment" -- when they break boundaries, try new things, toss out old rules -- it leads to disaster. And so we're left with works of formal abandon and moral resolve. But that's also part of what makes them so fascinating and, yes, beautiful. The overall effect is that of an artist trying to understand his times, to indulge in the newness of a world he doesn't always grasp.
Song to Song follows four people in and around the Austin music scene. Aspiring musicians Faye (Rooney Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling) meet at a party thrown by their mutual pal, record producer Cook (Michael Fassbender), and quickly fall for each other. BV does his playful Ryan Gosling thing; Faye does her wide-eyed Rooney Mara thing. The two fall in and out of love, then find other people without ever quite letting go of one another. Meanwhile, Cook charms and slimes his way through everybody -- cheating BV, compromising Faye and pretty much ruining a schoolteacher/waitress (Natalie Portman) whom he woos, marries, then degrades.
Song to Song continues the mosaic-like stylization of To the Wonder and Knight of Cups -- an indulgence that has turned much of the critical establishment off to Malick. But connect with its kineticism, and it might just leave you breathless.