Lovesong is one of the films I missed at MIFF and the Melbourne Queer Film Festival has given me another chance to see it. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but I loved this sparse, quiet tale of the significant loves we have in our lives and what steers our choices.
Sarah (Riley Keough) is essentially single parenting three-year-old Jessie as her husband Dean is constantly away with work. She is isolated, using medication to cope and totally immersed in a world where her only conversations are with a three-year-old. Mindy (Jena Malone), a friend from high school, arrives and alcohol and late night conversations lead to confessions. Sarah tells of her unhappy marriage and Mindy of the many adventures and missteps of her past. The intimacy becomes haltingly physical, shifting the friendship in a way that neither seems prepared for.
The focus of this film is Sarah; the camera often lingers on her face as we watch her conflicting emotions and dogged determination to suppress her own needs. We get little backstory about her but she resonates as the responsible good girl; trying not to upset others, dutiful and amenable. Mindy is the risk taker, moving freely through life and relationships. What director So-yong Kim does is allow us to see the fragility behind the mask.
The subtext here is about the paths we don’t use, the words we don’t speak and the desires we don’t pursue because to do so will set us apart from the mob. It will fracture the carefully constructed sameness that we begin to build as soon as we learn that difference isolates us from the pack. The performances of Malone and Keough are mesmerising and feel completely real. The dynamic between Keough and the actors playing her daughter Jessie at ages three and six (Jessie and Sky Ok Gray) is so genuine it’s hard to believe they are not actually related. I’m astounded at the naturalism Kim draws from the two young girls.
Music is used sparingly and to great effect, underscoring the beauty of the washed out urban and rural landscapes. There are some strong secondary characters, perhaps the most pivotal is Mindy’s mother, played subtly by Rosanna Arquette (who surprisingly and delightfully looks her age). In the few brief scenes where she appears we suddenly understand what has shaped Mindy.
Bechdel test – pass