In Austin, Texas, Faye (Rooney Mara) is trying to break through in the music industry while going through one lover after the next. Unscrupulous music producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) is her most powerful, but the man who's fallen hard for her is his protégé, BV (Ryan Gosling). Cook also holds sway over Rhonda (Natalie Portman), a waitress who sees him as a means to an end. This foursome and more slip into and out of each others' arms, risking personal and professional heartbreak, their soundtrack moving from "Song to Song."
Since his "The Tree of Life," Terrence Malick has been dividing audiences with his memory slipstream movies, fragmented visuals set to copious voiceover and densely mixed sound. But while I found something of interest in "To the Wonder" and "Knight of Cups," his latest is his most simplistic indulgence, over two hours of watching beautiful people hurt each other only to come to the realization that once you've found your soulmate you should hang onto them. Malick doesn't even take advantage of his setting here, Austin's music industry merely a backdrop with occasional glimpses of Iggy Pop, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and John Lydon, Patti Smith acting as Faye's guide to matters of the heart.
Faye is introduced as a free spirit who 'went through a period of violent sex' in order to feel something, rationalizing that having an experience is better than having none at all. She's under the sway of Cook, a rich hedonist partial to multiple lovers, often at the same time. But BV's gentle wooing draws her in and the three dance and play together (this film's idea of relationships), BV unaware of Faye's previous (and ongoing) relationship with Cook. When BV learns of Faye's betrayal, he rejects his ex's (Lykke Li) overtures and falls into a relationship with Amanda (a miscast Cate Blanchett), who as far as I could tell is supposed to have just returned from an East Coast education and lives in a baroque palace. Meanwhile Cook marries Rhonda only to destroy her (Portman's is the only performance that engenders sympathy) while Faye is seduced by a French woman (Bérénice Marlohe, "Skyfall"). In an inadvertently hilarious scene, BV's mother (Linda Emond, "Indignation") declares her son's new girlfriend 'wrong,' and he and Faye find their way back to each other and a more simple life in the heartland.
For 129 minutes, we're treated to Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's ("Gravity") camera swirling around characters breaking into little dances, Mara and Portman's belly buttons and birds taking flight. It is a mystery why the film's editors include such cuts as a hand pulling away wire fencing in front of donkeys in the middle of such montages and one can only imagine the sound editors must have been ripping their hair out. The only evidence of Faye's musicianship is her standing on the edge of a stage holding a guitar while Val Kilmar does...something.
Robin did not see this film.
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