In “Lovesong,” director So Yong Kim’s 2016 Sundance entry that received wide release in February 2017 (available on Netflix), two friends drift apart before coming back together, drawn to one another but lacking the right words and the proper form with which to define their attraction. With its dialogue-sparse treatment and deeply resonant performances from Riley Keough (“Mad Max: Fury Road,” “American Honey”) and Jena Malone (“The Hunger Games”), the film shows how life’s liminal spaces can be where our most meaningful connections are made.
“Lovesong” opens with Sarah (Keough) being awakened by her three-year-old daughter, Jessie. As Jessie tumbles and plays, Sarah is tender but withdrawn. It’s quickly established that her husband (played by filmmaker Cary Fukunaga), who only appears in a brief Skype call, will soon be out of the picture. Her childhood friend Mindy (Malone) arrives for a visit shortly thereafter. Carefree, affectionate, and brash, Mindy is a foil to Sarah, with her soft and introspective disposition. Though they haven’t seen one another for some time, there’s a deep understanding in the way they interact. The two women take Jessie on a road trip, and the scenes play out in a dreamlike sequence of longing. At its most intimate, they barely speak and often are not in the same frame. Close-ups of their faces as they lock eyes—in the car, on a Ferris wheel—are filled with as much desire as they are with questions. In the wrong hands, such sequences would have felt forced, but with Kim’s composure, and Keough’s and Malone’s intense chemistry, they become a study on restraint and release.
Following a night that starts with drunken confessions and ends in intimacy, the two are at arm’s length the next morning, unable to express what the night meant or what they want from it. Mindy abruptly buys a bus ticket home, and the next time we see them is the next time they see each other, three years later, when Sarah and a six-year-old Jessie travel to Nashville for Mindy’s wedding. It’s apparent that their feelings have not only remained but have taken on different forms in their dormancy. In a moment of doubt before the ceremony, they take a walk along a riverbank. Though they aren’t shown actually speaking, a dialogue between them fades in and out of the score. Whether the confessions are verbalized or not, it’s the first honest conversation they’ve had since they saw each other last.
What transpires isn’t simply friendship, desire, or even love, but a depth of understanding that hasn’t found a place, a time, or a framework. In the film’s final scene, the camera stays on Sarah as she watches the couple exchange vows out of sight. In her expression we see every yearning, pain, and affection that has led to that moment. We understand that connections come in all forms, but it is often those that can’t be realized that have the most lasting effect.