Thursday, February 16, 2017

LOVESONG: So-young Kim's friendship/love story opens (and deepens and surprises)

If you're already familiar with the work of South Korean-born/Los Angeles-raised filmmaker So-yong Kim -- In Between Days, Treeless Mountain, For Ellen and now LOVESONG --  you'll probably make a bee line for her newest movie, which bears many of the hallmarks of her earlier work: life unfurling naturally with little to no melodrama, relationships that change and grow organically, and especially some fine work with and around young children. All these are here, plus something else: Lovesong marks Kim's most accessible and nearly-mainstream movie thus far.

The filmmaker, pictured at left, here tackles the tale of two young women, longtime friends -- one of them (Riley Keough) married to a rather unavailable man and mother to a young daughter, the other (Jena Malone) still seemingly sewing her wild oats -- who are so very close that during a long weekend suddenly spent together take that friendship to another level. If this sounds anything like your usual lesbian rom-com-drama, it both is and isn't, for Kim spends much less time on the sex and/or lovemaking than on the feelings these two young women have for each other, as well as on the relationship that has built up between them over the years.

The two have a special place in each other's mind and heart, and Ms Keough (at left on poster, top and above) and Ms Malone (at right on poster, top, and above) bring all this to fine life, with the help of Ms Kim's screenplay (co-written with Bradley Rust Gray), which never over-explicates but allows us to see this relationship via its small moments of closeness -- and distance. When Malone's character flirts with a rodeo cowboy during the road trip, we see Keough's jealousy quietly surface.

Along on that trip is Keough's and her husband's (whom we see only via conversations on the computer) three-year-old daughter, played to near-perfection (as has been true with the various children in all of Kim's movies) by a delightful newcomer Jessie Ok Gray (above. right).

That early trip ends suddenly, and then it's several years later, as Malone is about to be married, and Keough and her daughter (now played by, I am guessing, Gray's older sister, Sky OK Gray, who is also as natural and believable as can be) arrive to join the wedding party. The filmmaker allows her child actors to simply behave and then captures their behavior extremely well.

The passing years seem to have only deepened the feelings of the two women, yet that wedding proceeds as planned, if in fits and starts. Lovesong actually grows and deepens as it moves along, even though the relationship between the two women is so halting and unsure. It's there and it's strong, despite all else.

Is it societal control that is forcing the Malone character toward heterosexuality over homosexuality? Clearly, she does have an attraction toward the opposite sex, yet that shown to her female friend seems strongest of all. Ever the character's mother (the usual nice job from Rosanna Arquette) questions her daughter's choice here, and what the poor groom (smartly and charmingly profiled by Ryan Eggold, below with Ms Malone), knows about all this is also unclear.

Ms Kim refuses to tie up loose ends (or almost any ends) yet this does not, finally, matter much. So well and so strongly has she captured the central relationship, despite much that we in the audience still do not know, that the movie manages to be both deeply sad and deeply joyful, as our two characters move on with their respective lives.

Lovesong is a most unusual film, but it's one that perceptive, demanding audiences should find worthwhile.

The movie -- from Strand Releasing and running just 84 minutes -- opens tomorrow, Friday, February 17, in New York City at the City Cinemas' Village East and in Los Angeles on March 3 at AMC's Sundance Sunset Cinema and Laemmle's Playhouse 7. To view all currently scheduled playdates and theaters in some 15 cities across the country, click here and then click on Screenings on the task bar midway down your screen.

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