Director: Max Walker-Silverman
Writer: Max Walker-Silverman
Stars: Dale Dickey, Wes Studi, Michelle Wilson
Two childhood sweethearts, both now widowed, share a night by a lake in the mountains. A love story for those who are alone. A quiet little heartthrob about loneliness and longing in the American West, A Love Song is sure to be characterized as something of a mini-Nomadland.
It would not be a totally unfounded comparison. Starring the formidable character actress Dale Dickey in a rare leading role as Faye, a 60-year-old woman living off the grid and reconnecting, for one night, with an old flame (Wes Studi), the film debut by Max Walker-Silverman is decidedly smaller in scale than Chloé. Zhao’s 2020 Oscar Winner. It doesn’t have that film’s scope, political nuances, or romanticism when it comes to American independence and wanderlust. What the two films do share is a clear and compassionate attention to itinerant female leads, as well as themes of aging, pain, and the sustaining beauty of nature.
But while Nomadland’s Fern (Frances McDormand) resisted settling down with a suitor (David Strathairn), clinging to her self-sufficiency, her mobility, and the memory of her dead husband, Faye almost trembles with the longing for company and connection.
In that deep melancholy, and in the broad outlines of its story, A Love Song can also bring to mind other screen portraits of people who subsist on the frayed margins of society, including Robin Wright’s recent Land and works by the Freelance authors Debra Granik and Kelly Reichardt. If the film doesn’t exactly transcend its familiarity (the elegiac tone, the sun-kissed, windswept landscape, the melancholy acoustic guitar score), it succeeds, often with understated magnificence, in finding ways around it, to make you not matter in the least.
That’s thanks in no small part to the wonderful central duo, the indelibly expressive texture of their faces, and the timbre of their voices. They give the film zing and feeling, as do the perfect sense of place, the gorgeous country-folk-blues-rock soundtrack, and smooth wacky flourishes that suggest influences from Jim Jarmusch and Gus Van Sant to the Coen brothers in their own right. less caustic way and Wes Anderson. in its smallest arc. With its inconspicuous confidence and his finely calibrated emotion, A Love Song leaves you excited to see what the writer-director does next, perhaps in less explored territory.
When we meet Faye, she is ensconced in her trailer at a lakeside campground in Colorado. The first few minutes of the film efficiently set up your routine: catching and boiling crayfish for meals, listening to music on your transistor radio, memorizing bird sounds and constellations with the help of Audubon guides, and enjoying the splendor of the water and the mountains while drinking from a can of beer or cup of coffee.
Although Faye’s calendar tells us it’s 2020, there’s no cell phone or laptop in sight. Wisely, the film never tries to convince us whether this is a sign of freedom or isolation, empowerment or apathy. But it soon becomes clear that Faye is waiting for someone: whenever she passes a friendly messenger (John Way), accompanied by a horse with mail containers strapped to her back, Faye perks up in anticipation.
One day, just as Faye is ready to pack up and move on, Lito (Studi) arrives with his dog and a bouquet of wildflowers. Bits of backstory emerge from their hesitant and tender initial conversations: Faye and Lito grew up together in the area and were friends in school; her loving husband died seven years ago; he too was happily married and now widowed. They haven’t seen each other in decades, but they recently made plans to meet at this very camp. Are here.
What happens over the next hour is not particularly unexpected or dramatic. Words are exchanged, though not many (think of Lito and Faye as the anti-Jesse-and-Celine of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy). Food and drinks are shared, music is played. There is a kiss that seems more like a release, a mutual acknowledgment of a common pain, than something erotic. But the intimacy between these characters is quietly moving. We intuit that under the sobriety of their phrases and gestures, tonight their interior moves and shuffles their perspectives; decisions that were made once are being reconsidered, second chances are contemplated.