With her film Lovesong, director So Yong Kim shows us how old friendship can morph into awkwardness when lives take different directions. The film premiered at Sundance in 2016 and will be distributed this month by Strand Releasing.
Kim’s film strikes a delicate balance between love and a reality, filled with uncomfortable moments punctuated by silent smiles, poorly-timed hugs and, in this case, often drifting into emotional confusion. Lovesong is her fourth feature and her third film at Sundance. The film stars Riley Keough (The Girlfriend Experience, The Runaways, Magic Mike, Mad Max: Fury Road) as Sarah, a serious young woman who has taken the more traditional route of a young mother. Sarah finds herself feeling alone and distant from her husband, who travels so much he is only seen briefly, on a grainy video chat. She takes a spontaneous road trip with her three-year old daughter and her best friend from college, Mindy, played by Jena Malone (Nocturnal Animals, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).
Lovesong can be seen as a commentary on longing and desire from Sarah’s point of view. In the first half of the film, Sarah jumps at the chance to be around Mindy’s sense of freedom—and, frankly, Mindy could use some of Sarah’s sense of responsibility. In the film’s second act, set three years later, Sarah appears to long for a life in which she does not belong. If part one is Sarah’s seduction, part two is her awkward stage. Keough handles the emotional work of this film with grace, vulnerability, and love.
Kim shot part one, the road trip, handheld with a naturalistic and unfiltered style has an initiate and relaxed feel. “I wanted it to have a low contrast, flat look,” Kim said. “I wanted to give a sense of freedom to the locations.” Part one has minimal characters and a variety of interesting outdoor locations—a rodeo, an amusement park, among others.
In part two, Mindy appears to have grown up and reunites with Sarah as she is planning her wedding. She has a new look and new friends, played by Brooklyn Decker (Bandaid, Grace and Frankie), Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend Experience, Upstream Color), and others. “For part two, the look was different. The characters are more mature, more contained, emotionally and physically restrained,” said Kim. Although Mindy’s wild nature peaks out at times, in the form of bachelorette parties and nights out, she constantly sets herself back on course. Rosanna Arquette (known for the iconic film Desperately Seeking Susan) who plays Mindy’s mom has the sharpest, most acerbic lines in the movie. She asks the questions we are all asking ourselves as we watch Sarah and Mindy tiptoe around each other. Arquette is a welcomed knife, slicing through Mindy’s BS as only a mother can. “She has no filter,” said Kim of the character.
Kim also teaches screenwriting at Bard College in New York. “My work has always been about collaboration and mutual respect,” said Kim. “My students need to learn how to develop their own ideas and concepts and I provide the encouragement.” Among her students, was Miles Joris-Peyrafitte, writer-director of As You Are, which also premiered at Sundance 2016.
Kim produced and co-wrote the film with her husband, Bradley Rust Gray. Her two daughters play Sarah’s daughter, the younger daughter in part one and Kim’s older daughter in part two. “I have learned so much from working on this film,” said Kim. “I have a sense of connection with working with my talent—how wonderful and creative they are. I love allowing the actors to be a full part of the creative process. It’s exciting for me. I wanted them to feel that I trusted them to expand or collapse the scene as they saw it.” Lovesong is an intimate love story, from the inside out. MM
Lovesong opened in theaters February 17, 2017, courtesy of Strand Releasing.