If you want to understand “A Love Song,” you have to be willing to listen.
Film may be a visual medium, but for almost 100 years sound has played a major role in it, and it dominates this contemporary meditation on existence. It’s no spoiler to tell potential viewers to pay attention to every sound; indeed, to every silence – the absence of sound is telling as well.
“A Love Song” is a “small” film with a lot of big footnotes. It’s the first feature to offer veteran character actor Dale Dickey (a Knoxville native) the leading role. It co-stars Wes Studi, a remarkable actor himself, to play a character who for once doesn’t have “Native American” as his calling card.
It’s received comparisons to 2020’s “Nomadland” – the Frances McDormand-starrer that also concerns a mature woman living in a trailer in the western part of the country – but it has a markedly different attitude and purpose. And it’s been marketed as a romance, but the traditional concept of a film romance is puny and lacking compared with this film.
What “A Love Song” has that “Nomadland” lacks is a constant stream of surprises. Make that surprises and optimism. In its short 81 minutes, it flips the script frequently on who the characters are and what they want from life.
That’s especially true with Faye (Dickey), the aforementioned woman in a trailer. In the rural farmlands of southwestern Colorado, Faye has landed at campsite No. 7, parked next to a lake that’s a veritable sea of riches. It’s quickly revealed that Faye is alone and waiting. Well, not so much alone.
Other humans intrude on Faye’s exile in a quirky parade. Each encounter reveals more tidbits, to the point where audiences may scratch their heads and think, “Who in the world is this woman?”
The layers are peeled back without defying belief, and the result is a character who has more to offer than she gives herself credit for.
“A Love Song” is a film that deserves to be discovered, not just in the sense that it should appeal to a wide audience, which it does, but as an experience. The riches in its tight frame should captivate those who don’t feel like they have to read the ending before they start a book or who deny the urge to shake a present before unwrapping it.
What isn’t surprising about the movie is the truth projected by Dickey and Studi. Every moment they’re on screen – individually and in tandem – is real and honest, although frankly that could be said of any of their performances. Their work is superb, though it doesn’t feel like work.
There’s a magic to director Max Walker-Silverman’s script in everything from nature to the somewhat-dated technology to the music that pops up on an old portable radio. Every scene has a clue about life and connection. Being open, taking chances and having a sense of humor are always good pieces of advice.
In the old days, this might have been called a “feel-good movie.” I’m not sure that’s a thing anymore. But it’s a joy especially to see Dickey carry an entire film instead of just stealing scenes for a change. Here’s hoping that “A Love Song” starts a trend.
“A Love Song” is rated PG and is playing at Regal Downtown West Cinema.
Betsy Pickle is a veteran film critic on the Knoxville scene.