Sundance Review: A Love Song
It’s easy to foresee comparisons to Nomadland for Max Walker-Silverman’s debut feature. Like Chloé Zhao’s Oscar-winner, A Love Song centers an older, solitary woman, living mostly off the grid, surrounded by plenty of vast and lovely landscapes. And though those comparisons will likely do a disservice to Walker-Silverman’s film given Nomadland’s artistry and accolades, A Love Song isn’t trying to imitate Zhao — and winds up the better for it.
At the film’s heart is the wonderful Dale Dickey, playing Faye, a woman we suspect has suffered some sort of heartbreak. She lives by herself on a campsite where her only contacts are the mailman and the few other campers in the area. She spends each day and night in mostly the same manner: drinking coffee, catching and eating crawfish, listening to her radio, and reading one of the two books in her camper — one on bird calls, the other about constellations. Her reluctance to leave and her anticipation for the mail signal one thing: she’s waiting for someone.
Not to give too much away, but someone does eventually show up, in the form of the great Wes Studi. Always a welcome sight, Studi brings both gravitas and vulnerability to another wandering soul, lost and looking for companionship — even if he isn’t entirely sure he’s ready for it. The chemistry between him and Dickey is palpable but melancholy, and makes for the film’s greatest strength; the middle section the two actors share is the most engrossing and the most emotionally resonant.
Dickey carries the rest of the film, though it doesn’t quite have the same magic when other characters interact with Faye. Early sequences of her on her own work quite well, effectively showing her relationship with the natural world as well as underlining her loneliness; Walker-Silverman smartly knows when to keep things understated, spending plenty of time on quiet world-building and avoiding some of the expected narrative turns. This patience pays off and endears the film enough to overcome some of the more clichéd missteps — compositions that get a little too cute, a thematically blunt pseudo-magical radio, and scenes with a strange family that feel jarringly out of place.
A Love Song is brief (and there may not even be quite enough there to fill its 80 minutes) but the sentiments at its core are heartfelt and ring true, especially when expressed by actors of the quality of Dickey and Studi — watching them work is ultimately worth the price of admission.