Like its central not-couple, two women tongue-tied about their desire for each other, So Yong Kim’s Lovesong frustrates with its lack of articulation. Sarah (Riley Keough) and her three-year-old daughter, Jessie (Jessie Ok Gray), are cocooned somewhere in leafy splendor; her husband, gone for long stretches on business, appears only via dropped Skype calls. A visit from Mindy (Jena Malone), a friend of Sarah’s since college, stirs the intimacy-starved young mother. A hand is placed on a thigh, they kiss, the rest occurs offscreen. Their halting, dissembling conversation about what happened sets the listless tone for the rest of the film, which jumps ahead three years later and finds Sarah and Jessie (now played by Sky Ok Gray) in Nashville for Mindy’s wedding (to a man).
As feelings remain unexpressed or avoided, Lovesong grows more vaporous, even as the frame becomes increasingly cluttered with minor characters, their appearance necessitated by the bustle of the upcoming nuptials. Some of these small roles, though, give tonic weight to the movie, none more so than Rosanna Arquette’s portrayal of Mindy’s mom, never afraid to conceal her disapproval and disappointment. Kim, whose Treeless Mountain (2008) stands as one of the finest films about childhood from the past decade, elicits (or, at minimum, sets up the right conditions for) more great performances from the little girls playing Jessie, who are also the director’s daughters. (Their dad is filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray, who co-wrote Lovesong with Kim; the spouses are frequent collaborators.) And despite her hazily sketched part, Keough, by calibrating the intensity of her yearning gazes, makes Sarah’s needs and appetites piercingly palpable.
Directed by So Yong Kim
Opens February 17, Village East Cinema