Faye (Rooney Mara) is a musician, a guitarist, in the Austin scene in Texas, yet she wonders if her vocation is truly bringing her satisfaction in life. This brought her to songwriter BV (Ryan Gosling), who she hit it off with highly successfully, and soon they were both head over heels in love, spending long summer days rolling around with each other both in the bedroom and in the open air, playing like puppies. But there is another man in Faye's social circle who is far more manipulative than BV, he is recording executive Cook (Michael Fassbender), who in his own drive to attain a perfection in his soul has a habit of using his charisma to wrap people, women especially, around his little finger...
Director Terrence Malick received some of the worst reviews of his career for Song to Song, which coming after the extreme scepticism from many quarters that greeted his previous project, Knight of Cups, meant for many he had lost everything that made him such a lauded filmmaker from his first few efforts, despite those having around a twenty-year gap between him making the first two and commencing his third. If he had retired after The New World his reputation could have stayed intact, even Tree of Life had a legion of defenders, but after that it seemed he was tagged with that dreaded term "self-indulgent" and once that had happened there was no hope for him critically.
Not to mention with general audiences: imagine you had heard this guy was one of the greatest of all time, so you gave this a go and frankly wondered what his fans were smoking, since you could not discern any plot here, simply a bunch of famous folks arseing about for over two hours, with a narration from them which utterly failed to clear anything up whatsoever. The trouble with that was, in the case of this movie at least, you would not be too far off the mark in that conclusion, only bolstered by the actors telling us that the whole shebang was improvised and assembled from weeks of footage in the editing suite, which justifiably set off alarm bells in those who wished for a proper story.
Indeed, a collection of sequences loosely connected by the same famous faces showing up in most of them what precisely what Song to Song resembled, and again, that was down to that summation being accurate. Malick apparently believed he was musing on relationships, love, death and memory, but you would only know that from reading up about the film beforehand (or afterwards), as this ridiculously extended montage collated clips of music, some more recognisable than others, and pressed them into service over a tale set against the celebrated Austin music scene. You could at least tell that from the famous faces the director had captured for his camera, including seconds-long bursts of John Lydon or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or slightly more extended chats with Iggy Pop or Lykke Li. Patti Smith probably got the best deal out of her inclusion.
When they were not on the screen, the lion's share was given over to movie stars playing what might laughably be called characters, though Malick seemed to think watching his cast lolling around bedrooms or getting back to his beloved nature was a nice substitute for offering them something more substantial to do. Yet what those who had turned against him failed to acknowledge was that he was always like this, and Song by Song was a distillation of his quirks and identifiable traits as Knight of Cups had been, so yes, it stumbled badly as a narrative, and its themes were largely solely visible to their creators (Emmanuel Libezki was once again his closest collaborator as his cinematographer), but as before it did have a surface attractiveness that meant you could watch it all play out before your eyes as a kind of cinematic kaleidoscope and it would be fairly enjoyable in a "watching someone else's dreams" manner. Coming across as a virtuoso guitarist noodling for a couple of hours in search of a killer riff, the probability was you would find it boring, yes, but meet it halfway by relaxing into it and it wasn't so bad.
[Studio Canal's DVD has plenty of interviews with cast and crew (though not the director, natch) and a featurette on the music.]