The opening shots of “A Love Song” are a cue for the rest of the film – stubborn flowers and shrubs growing through dry, stony land in southwestern Colorado. They’re rough beauties, they’ve been through a lot, and yet they’re still captivating in their rawness.
Max Walker-Silverman’s film is also a stripped-down beauty, delicate yet strong and tenacious, exploring time, love and nature. Despite being rated PG, “A Love Song” is very much an adult movie, quiet and slow and very, very restrained. It may require the viewer to relearn how to be patient amid all the rival Marvel-boom nonsense offerings in theaters these days.
Dale Dickey of “Winter’s Bone” stars as a dying woman who sets up an RV at a lakeside campsite, pulling crawfish out of the water to eat, and having looking hopeful whenever someone approaches. She is obviously expecting someone and spends her time studying stars and birds.
Walker-Silverman, who also provided the script – which literally could have fit on a few index cards – keeps the actors’ motivations and background hazy until they reveal them, leaving huge chunks of unspoken cinematic work.
Dickey is absolutely up to the challenge, somehow communicating longing and loneliness while going about daily life, keeping a routine but also seeming to yearn to break it one day. Every time she hears a car on the gravel road, she does her hair like a schoolgirl.
Well, one day a man shows up with a tough-looking handful of flowers – who also nervously tends to his hair. It’s Wes Studi playing a long-lost potential lover from 10th grade. Can the sparks fly a second time, decades apart?
“Can you still love something that no longer exists?” she asks. He replies, “I know you can. Can’t you?”
We’d be rude if we gave it away, but Walker-Silverman grounds his study in absolute soulful humanity. While waiting for her new man, our heroine visits another camping couple – Michelle Wilson and Benja K. Thomas – and they’re at a romantic stalemate. Even the postman has moments that are too poignant. The filmmaker tends to make every word hang in the air because there are so few.
The only thing that seems to throw the movie off balance is the appearance and reappearance of a precocious, overly polite neighborhood girl and her four older, silent brothers. There’s something slightly surreal and Wes Anderson about them. As dry humor they don’t quite work, threatening to spoil a subtle play.
The title comes from our heroine’s tendency to turn on her transistor radio and spin the dial, letting fate send her a message through the radio waves. “Always play the perfect song even if you don’t know why at the time,” she says. The film’s soundtrack includes “Be Kind To Me” by Michael Hurley, “The Man Who Walks Alone” by Dick Flood and “Slip Slide One By” by Valerie June.
As a spectator, you can leave the theater with more answers than when you arrived – and that’s refreshing. Walker-Silverman has no interest in putting pretty bows on things, heaps of past stories or sentimentality. This is what love looks like with its wrinkles and sorrow, but also with sunshine and joy – it cuts through the harshness of life and blossoms with possibility.
“A Love Song”, a Bleeker Street release, is rated PG for “light thematic elements”. Duration: 81 minutes. Three out of four stars.
MPAA definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits