The Song of Sway Lake (R)

Drama 100 min. September 21, 2018
By Kristen Yoonsoo Kim
The 1992-set The Song of Sway Lake may muster some nostalgia for an era two decades past but the film, directed by Ari Gold and co-written by Elizabeth Bull, is actually about the nostalgia the characters themselves hold for an even more forgotten time: the Jazz Age. Gold presents their memories of that long-gone era through what looks like a vintage Instagram filter and of their present day with an almost too-warm saturation -- it's someone's idea of someone else's reminiscence. But maybe that's the point, since the story is centered around 20-something Ollie's mythification of his family.

Following his father's suicide, Ollie (Rory Culkin) makes a trip to his family's lake house with his friend Nikolai (Robert Sheehan) to steal a valuable recording, which is named for and after the location "Sway Lake." Ollie believes his father would've wanted him to have the 78, which belonged in the family for generations, as he genuinely appreciates the music. The bouncy '20s party tune, which plays throughout, is actually great, but there's a grating fairy tale vibe to the film, especially when Ollie and Nikolai's motivations are narrated through an almost "once upon a time" tone.

Things get a little more complicated when Ollie's grandmother Charlie (Mary Beth Peil) also arrives at Sway Lake with the intention of selling the record because she needs the money. Ollie, meanwhile, gets involved with a local girl, Isadora (Isabelle McNally), and Nikolai gets caught up in the Sway family history with his own, carried-away obsession with Charlie. But the most interesting character here is Marlena (Elizabeth Peña), the family maid, who puts up with semi-aggressive racism from the privileged Sways but whose storyline is ultimately squandered.
Ari Gold Rory Culkin, Robert Sheehan, Mary Beth Peil, Anna Shields, Zak Kilberg Elizabeth Bull, Ari Gold The Orchard

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