SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2016
By Don Simpson | January 28, 2016
Director: So Yong Kim
Writers: Bradley Rust Gray, So Yong Kim
Starring: Riley Keough, Jena Malone, Jessie Ok Gray, Sky Ok Gray, Ryan Eggold, Amy Seimetz, Brooklyn Decker, Rosanna Arquette, Marshall Chapman, Cary Joji Fukunaga
Sarah (Riley Keough)’s husband (Cary Joji Fukunaga) is away on a business trip that seems to continuously get extended for inexplicable reasons. As they communicate via Skype, there is no emotional connection between them, only heightening frustration on the part of Sarah and aloof indifference from her husband. Sarah is exasperated from raising their three-year-old daughter Jessie (Jessie Ok Gray) on her own. She just wants to know when her husband is going to be able to help out on the home front.
Enter Sarah’s longtime best friend, Mindy (Jena Malone). As soon as Mindy sees Sarah, she knows that she needs to do two things: help entertain Jessie and get Sarah to de-stress and cheer up. This speaks volumes to the unspoken language that exists between the two young women. No matter how long they have been apart, they still possess an incredibly powerful connection.
Sarah, Mindy and Jessie embark upon a road trip, which is precisely the escape that Sarah needed. Mindy establishes a great report with Jessie, so she is able to take some of the parental pressure off of Sarah. Mindy also affords Sarah the opportunity to imbibe in alcohol to loosen her up. And thanks to the alcohol, it is not long before their friendship hints at being something more than platonic. As it turns out, their aforementioned connection includes a flirtatious chemistry that is more than just mere curiosity.
The problem is that Sarah is married and the mother of a young daughter. Sarah is also timid and insecure. She views Mindy as a promiscuous party girl incapable of settling down into a monogamous relationship. With all of these apparent doubts, Sarah refuses to vocalize her true feelings for Mindy. Even though Mindy knows Sarah well enough to understand what is going on, she gets frustrated and boards the next bus for New York. If Sarah thought she was lonely before Mindy’s arrival, her face instantly reveals a state of deep depression as soon as Mindy leaves.
It is three years before they see each other again. Sarah is separated from her husband, but it is days before Mindy is scheduled to be married. The chemistry still exists, but the clock is ticking and there is a sloppy sense of urgency to their interactions.
If we psychoanalyze their situation, it is fairly obviously that a couple factors are keeping Sarah and Mindy apart. First is their inability to verbally communicate with each other. They may be able to read each other well, but it is equally important to hear the words. They hurt each other by not saying what they are feeling; they repeatedly get frustrated with each other and walk away. If only they were to recite the lyrics of The Cure’s “Lovesong” to each other, everything would have probably worked out just fine. (Lovesong is the third script penned by Bradley Rust Gray which references a song by The Cure in the title.) It is overwhelmingly clear that Mindy makes Sarah feel like she is home again, whole again, young again, and fun again. And however far away, however long they stay, whatever words they say, they will always love each other. It is as if Robert Smith knew exactly how these two characters felt.
The second factor that seems to keep Sarah and Mindy apart is their allegiance to societal norms. The two young women never come out and say it, but this seems to be the invisible wall keeping them separated. They both seem to accept that it is their roles as women to be married (to men) and have children. Sarah and Mindy having a romantic life together is only a dream. They truly are star-crossed lovers. Their love will continue to tear them apart again and again.
So Yong Kim’s Lovesong relies heavily upon the two leads to fully flesh out a fairly sparse script. Since the two women are not the best verbal communicators, the film focuses on their non-verbal communication. Riley Keough and Jena Malone beautifully channel their characters’ recessed desires, reflecting profound emotional honesty within their facial expressions and body postures.
Kim is clearly fascinated by female relationships, specific the inherent connection and the different shades of intimacy. With Sarah and Mindy, Kim is also able to capture a societal trend in which women seem to pair up with their opposite. We can assume that when they were younger, their differences were even more profound. Sarah probably befriended Mindy in the hopes that she could become more outgoing, maybe even more sexually empowered. Mindy most likely saw Sarah as a grounding force, someone to keep her out of danger. Then, we can only assume that the maturity that Mindy shows when she realizes that she should help Sarah out with Jessie is something that she learned from Sarah. Additionally, when they were in college, it was probably Sarah holding Mindy’s hair as she vomited in the toilet, but now that they are older, their roles are flipped. They have learned from each other over the many years of their friendship and co-opted aspects of each other’s personalities.