A Love Song (Review) – A Prototypical Sundance Movie

DIRECTOR: Max Walker-Silverman

CAST: Dale Dickey, Wes Studi, Michelle Wilson, Benja K. Thomas, John Way, Marty Grace Dennis

RUNNING TIME: 82 mins

CERTIFICATE: PG

BASICALLY…: A woman (Dickey) reunites with an old flame (Studi) on a campsite in the rural West…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Would it at all surprise you to find out that A Love Song, the feature debut of writer-director Max Walker-Silverman, made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival? That is to say, there are certain characteristics which have become synonymous over the years with low-budget indie flicks, particularly ones that have premiered at the annual Salt Lake City festival, all of which are present here to a point where you could almost see it as a parody of the typical Sundance movie. From the minimalist setting and cast, to its rather quirky sense of humour, to a free-wheeling light narrative that favours lengthy silences over intricate dialogue, A Love Song certainly seems like the most prototypical Sundance movie ever made.

Of course, none of this is meant in a derogatory sense: after all, Sundance is one of the film world’s most respected institutions, having kickstarted the careers of so many filmmakers and provided platforms for films that otherwise might not have found international recognition, so to be associated with the Sundance name is nothing to scoff at. What I’m getting at, though, is that if you were to imagine a film that ticks all of the stylistic and substantial criteria for a typical Sundance-debuting feature, A Love Song would probably be exactly what you’d imagine, and then some.

The film begins, and stays, simple enough; a middle-aged widow named Faye (Dale Dickey) has set up camp on a small site at a rural Colorado getaway. She spends her time fishing for lobsters in the tiny lake by her campervan, listening to music on the radio, and reading about different types of birds and flowers, all while clearly waiting for someone else to arrive. Eventually, that other person shows up: he is Lito (Wes Studi), an old flame of Faye’s who is also a widow, and whom she has invited along to see if they can rekindle their romance for one another.

That’s pretty much what the whole movie is, and if you’re apprehensive about seeing something where arguably very little else happens, then you probably won’t enjoy A Love Song all that much. Walker-Silverman’s script and direction keeps things muted to a point where there will be long stretches before any dialogue is uttered, and even then a lot of what we need to know is left intentionally vague for the viewer to connect the dots on their own. The structure is very loose, going from one minor scene to the next with an easy natural flow that takes its time rather than rush it all out at once, and somehow feeling inconsequential even when you know a major development in this small-scale story has just occurred. In between are moments of dry comedy that are akin to an early Wes Anderson movie, particularly with a reoccurring set of characters who seek to dig up a family member on the occupied campsite, providing some light relief in the idiosyncratic sense to an otherwise straightforward drama.

The latter is easily carried by a nicely understated performance by Dale Dickey, a veteran character actor who here gets the rare opportunity to shine in a lead role, and who through minimal use of dialogue is able to generate a ton of empathy for a character who’s clearly still yearning for passion of some kind, even in her twilight years. Her chemistry with fellow character actor Wes Studi is sweet, and there are some nice scenes that are just comprised of these two simply shooting the breeze with one another, whether it’s jamming on the guitar or swapping old memories from their school days. Their tender and even-levelled turns are what hold the majority of your attention, because while there’s little else going on around them, these are actors who have a decent enough amount of screen presence to still keep you interested in what’s going to happen with them.

Like I said, though, while it’s by no means a bad film, A Love Song really is a prototypical Sundance movie through and through. It has all the characteristics of one, from the pragmatic filmmaking style to the often quirky sense of humour, enough to where you could almost play a drinking game for every Sundance attribute that pops up throughout. With that in mind, this is also the kind of film that only ever attracts a specific type of audience – i.e. not exactly casual viewers – so it’s easy to understand why it probably isn’t to most people’s tastes, as it does structure and pace itself like something you would find at an artsy film festival rather than a multiplex cinema. However, if that happens to be exactly what you want in an alternative side of cinema, then this is a Sundance mini-gem that should just about win you over.

SO, TO SUM UP…

A Love Song is an understated romantic drama that gets by on the charm and strengths of its central performances, but the rest of its aesthetic is almost parodically in line with many conventional Sundance features, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does leave it less accessible to mainstream viewers.

A Love Song will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 2nd December 2022 – click here to find a screening near you!

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