Riley Keough and Jena Malone in "Lovesong"

Sundance ’16 Review: So Yong Kim Spins a Simple, Beautiful “Lovesong”

There’s a heartstopping moment in So Yong Kim’s “Lovesong” that takes place on a Ferris Wheel, one where the ride is barely noticeable behind the torment and desire in the eyes of the two young women, Sarah and Mindy (Riley Keough and Jena Malone), sitting in the passenger car, along with Sarah’s young daughter (in this scene, the 3-year-old Jessie Ok Gray, later played by her older sister Sky Ok Gray). You can hear the churn of the wheel begrudgingly rotate and the slight, feverish chatter of the crowds below, but as Kim allows you to stare at both as their minds race – their rational thought just one step behind what they’re feeling, you fall under the same spell that these two friends from college have surrendered to, wondering just what is next for the pair the same as they do.

This scene takes place in the first half of “Lovesong,” which splits its time between the Northeastern home of Sarah, a stay-at-home mom who is beginning to get restless with her husband frequently away on business trips, and Nashville, where three years later Mindy is on a cusp of getting married. Miles and years put a distance between the two, but for that brief moment when everything seems to align, they experience a connection that neither has before, leading them to wonder whether there’s anything more. “Lovesong” certainly doesn’t shy away from the “will they, won’t they” tension of such a scenario as Mindy is committed to wed a fine young fellow (Ryan Eggold) and be invited into a family that we’re led to believe might be more inviting than the one she actually belongs to, as suggested by the stealth appearance of her mildly disapproving mother (Rosanna Arquette).

Yet having made films such as “Treeless Mountain” and “For Ellen,” which tested the strength of relationships, here she looks at the fragility of them with Keough and Malone delicately dancing around what they really mean to say or suffering in secret when they once able to drown their sorrows together. The performances from both actresses feel unforced, with Keough in particular difficult to take your eye off of as Sarah wrestles with who she wants to be versus how much she comports to what she thinks others want of her. Despite a raucous Bachelorette party in the middle of it, there’s a gentleness to the film that allow each expression or gesture deepen in meaning as if you’ve become enveloped in those early stages of infatuation yourself.

By putting such care into that cocoon Sarah and Mindy create for themselves, Kim runs the risk of being too low-key or insular, and as the moments of Sarah and Nina’s frustration pile up in what’s left unsaid, the film hits some small snags as a cycle of behavior takes hold that’s neither healthy for them or the plot necessarily. But whether through Kim’s ability to develop a world outside of Sarah and Mindy’s that’s worth investing in or Keough and Malone’s natural chemistry or even the mildly insistent Johann Johansson score, “Lovesong” remains buoyant throughout, every bit as elegant and beautiful as its title implies, yet so much more complex.

“Lovesong” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will show four more times at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26th at the Prospector Square Theatre at 8:30 pm, January 27th at the Egyptian Theatre at 11:30 am, January 28th at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center at 9:30 pm, and January 30th at the Marc at 8:30 am.

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