Terrence Malick is just embarrassing movie stars with weird sex stuff now
Terrence Malick apparently isn’t making movies anymore, he’s making elaborate excuses to put our hottest movie stars into extremely awkward sex-fetish scenarios that are about as titillating as invasive dentistry.
Only two reasons I can think for why he might be doing this: To thoroughly embarrass famous people without anyone realizing it, or to gratify his own bizarro, wildly inaccurate notions about how human beings sate their carnal desires. If it’s the former, I admire his diabolical plan, but it must be stopped; if the latter, it’s just weird and icky and also must be stopped. Either way, Terrence Malick must be stopped.
Because as movie-going experiences, these things are infuriating.
Song to Song, which world premiered Friday night at the opening film of the South by Southwest Film Festival, is the third installment in this trilogy of faux-erotic flatulence (the first being the effortlessly boring “romance” To the Wonder, followed by the unintentionally silly and narcissistic Knight of Cups).
Set in the music scene of SXSW’s own Austin, Texas, Song to Song follows a sleazy record executive (Michael Fassbender), a struggling musician (Ryan Gosling) and the three women they get mixed up with at various turns (Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett).
The opening act is full of promise, as Gosling and Fassbender are both pursuing Mara, an aimless twentysomething existing on odd jobs and comely cold stares. She indulges their affections simultaneously, a love triangle that begins to feel like a “love mystery” — is she dating them both? Do they know about each other? And are these two alpha males, who are starting to work together on music, actually OK with this setup?
But the movie’s only intriguing dynamic crumbles when Fassbender falls for a waitress/teacher (Portman, who talks like an Austin townie for her first scene, then abandons the accent altogether), while Gosling falls in with an extraordinarily wealthy society woman (Blanchett).
Here’s where it all devolves into a muddled pastiche of Malick clichés: gorgeous nature shots, hissy-whispering nonsensical voice-over, and his latest kick, which is two movie stars — pick a combination, any combination — in a room, or a field, or a puddle, doing incredibly weird things to each other’s bodies.
Those things include, but are not limited to: goofy hand-to-hand wrestling, rolling around on beds and berber carpets, chasing each other around staircases, stepping on each other’s faces, pushing and pulling, hair-biting, playing “airplane,” awkwardly holding one another’s heads/faces, awkwardly holding one another’s feet and calves, awkwardly pulling at one another’s shirts and blouses, bare belly-kissing (OMG SO MUCH bare belly kissing), hip-bone clasping, lifting and carrying, finger biting, crotch grabbing, armpit caressing, holding each other upside-down, crotch-to-knee grinding, foot squeezing, throwing twigs and blades of grass at one another’s faces, putting caterpillars in one another’s hair … good lord who does this crap?
More relevantly, who tells other people — famous people! Famous grown-ups! — to do this crap? When there are cameras rolling! And gets away with it!?
It says as much about the Austin music scene as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift says about the Austin music scene
What’s worse, Mara is doing it with Fassbender, Fassbender is doing it with Portman, Mara is doing it with Bérénice Marlohe, Gosling is doing it with Blanchett, Gosling is doing it with Mara, Portman is doing it with the prostitute that Fassbender hired, Fassbender is doing it with the other two prostitutes he hired … everyone is doing this crap with everyone, endlessly, for what feels like four straight hours. God, these people are horrible. And it’s not even sexy-sex stuff, just this oddball grab-ass footsie nonsense stuff that is utterly ridiculous and thoroughly uncomfortable to watch.
And by the way, is this how the music industry works?
Speaking of the music industry — don’t be fooled, SXSW fans. Song to Song says about as much about the Austin music scene as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift says about the Austin music scene.
Sure, Gosling sings a bit, and we all know how that goes. Mara holds a guitar like she’s holding a live gila monster. There are some outdoor concert scenes that remind you why you stopped going to outdoor concerts. Patti Smith and Iggy Pop and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Val Kilmer manage to survive their cameos, but Gosling and Fassbender definitely do not survive their cursory dialogue about song copyrights and record deals. Little parts of their careers actually die from it.
The whole thing stinks more than the ooze running down Austin’s 6th street on a SXSW Saturday morning.
What’s particularly sad about Malick’s disturbing spiral into gawky horn-dogging is that it directly follows his incandescent and much-beloved Tree of Life, an Oscar-nominated cinematic poem about life, creation and everything, one of the best and most moving movies of the millennium.
Knowing what we do about Malick’s process, with hundreds of hours of footage shot by various teams and underlings that’s then pored over and reconstructed in an edit room, maybe Tree of Life was just a fluke — a happy accident that may never be repeated.
Because fool us once, To the Wonder, fool us twice Knight of Cups … and what the hell does that make Song to Song?