When we see the word “love” in the context of a movie title, we’re conditioned to assume it means the romantic type. With her yearning and perfectly pitched Lovesong, director So-yong Kim challenges that reflex by blurring the line between friends and lovers.
Riley Keough stars as Sarah, a young mother to a three-year-old girl and a housewife to a man whose career takes him out of town for months at a time. During one of these lonely stretches, Sarah’s best friend, Mindy (Jena Malone), comes upstate from New York City to visit for a long weekend and a mini road trip. The first half of Lovesong, in episodes with gentle ellipses, covers these days and the changing relationship between the two women before the movie jumps three years and half a country to Mindy’s wedding weekend in Nashville.
Despite the film’s two halves being shot by different cinematographers, Lovesong consistently takes place in a world where the sun never quite seems to come out. It’s not a morose affectation, though, just the everyday, tactile gloom and damp of autumn in most of America.
Keough and Malone are terrific together, displaying at once both the ease between old friends and the careful awkwardness when two such people haven’t seen one another in a long time. Still, with the exception of a semi-polite breakfast confrontation between Mindy and her mother (Rosanna Arquette), this is Sarah’s story. Keough’s in-the-moment naturalism and her interactions with the two young girls who play her daughter at different ages (the director’s own kids) are a testament to the potency of improvisation when used for something other than riffing.
Friends, and often female friends in particular, can achieve a closeness that runs as deep as or deeper than any romance, even if it may look different on the outside. Lovesong lets its two main characters exist in both forms, arguing that such distinctions are superficial and, finally, that love is love.