A Love Song, 2022.
Written and directed by Max Walker-Silverman.
Starring Dale Dickey, Wes Studi, Michelle Wilson, Benja K. Thomas, John Way, and Marty Grace Dennis.
Two childhood sweethearts, both now widowed, share a night by a lake in the mountains. A love story for those who are alone.
It’s always tremendously rewarding to see a long-serving character actor be afforded the platform of a starring movie role, and instantly recognisable mainstay Dale Dickey makes the sure most of the opportunity in Max Walker-Silverman’s unassuming directorial debut.
This unconventional romance revolves around the middle-aged Faye (Dickey), who has parked her campervan at a specific campsite in the Colorado mountains where she awaits the arrival of a special someone; a childhood love, Lito (Wes Studi), who she hasn’t seen in many decades. Each still mourning the deaths of their spouses sometime prior, they plan to meet, catch up, sort through the past, and perhaps even plot a course for the future.
A film critic cliche though it might be, A Love Song is easily described as a warm cup of cocoa of a movie, gliding on a calm breeze over its lithe 81 minutes. Despite this scant runtime, Walker-Silverman is in no rush whatsoever, with Studi’s Lito not even turning up until the start of act two. Until then, the filmmaker trains his camera on Faye as she kills time awaiting Lito’s arrival, comprised of numerous wordless scenes where she listens to music and catches crawdads, with the audience invited to simply get drunk on the chill vibe and painterly mountainous scenery.
There are also unexpected flecks of dry absurdism; Faye crosses paths with a number of memorable Characters, including a friendly mailman delivering letters, a Black lesbian couple contemplating marriage, and best of all a family whose father is buried underneath Faye’s camper, and who wish to dig him up to re-bury him elsewhere.
The dynamic unavoidably shifts once Lito finally arrives, yet that relaxed air remains largely the same. Neither Faye nor Lito is much for raising their voice, and listening to them pore over memories, bond over their mutual bereavement, and explore whether they still really know each other so many decades on, it feels like we’re being made privy to a most private, intimate conversation we have no business listening in on.
Watching them play guitar together, lament the passage of time, ponder the pangs of love, and of course explore their own possible romance would give cause for portent in most others movies, but there’s virtually no desire here to indulge melodrama or even really escalate the sexual tension. After all, as one particularly sweet moment proves, sometimes you just want someone to hold your ice cream cone while you scoop a frozen treat into it.
You may not know the name Dale Dickey, but you will almost certainly recognise her from some of her 125+ film and TV roles since 1995, typically playing down-and-outers, drug addicts, “hillbillies,” and so on; she won an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in 2010’s Winter’s Bone. Her unique, deeply expressive face lends easy character to even the basest role, and while her most mainstream parts are typically also her most boisterous, here she’s asked to say so much more through her furrowed countenance.
The quiet, restless impatience as she waits for Lito to show up could become ennui-inducing with a less-interesting actress playing Faye, but she effortlessly commands attention even when the film’s rhythms are at their most lackadaisical. That’s not to say she isn’t given ripe opportunities to hit more outward emotional beats; a mid-film monologue about grief is sure to touch all but the most stone-hearted.
And while this is absolutely Dickey’s show, the great Wes Studi brings his expected gravitas to the fore, showing up just as audiences themselves might start getting fidgety. Like Faye, Lito is quietly tortured by an angst that won’t leave, yet despite the unavoidable cloud this hangs over their maybe-relationship, there’s not a speck of rehearsed contrivance to their wholly authentic interactions.
For his feature debut, Max Walker-Silverman has assembled a low-key visual feast of a film, DP Alfonso Herrera Salcedo lending a gritty photochemical look to the picture while seemingly relying largely on natural light. There’s also a distinctly timeless quality to the movie’s aesthetic, aided by the general lack of contemporary technology and pop-culture references throughout.
But Walker-Silverman is evidently aware that his greatest weapon is his leading lady’s uniquely contoured face, which can so strikingly wear the weight of heartbreak and grief across it. He clearly knows when to just point the camera at Dickey and leave all else alone, but also makes good on the epic mountainous scenery surrounding his cast, and in one mesmerising sequence sets the naked starry sky as a mouth-watering backdrop. This is all set to Ramzi Bashour’s fittingly easy-going guitar score, and also the songs that play on Faye’s radio at times that, as she herself notes, seem almost supernaturally opportune.
Some may find A Love Song aimless to a fault, but living in this world with these richly drawn characters for a small window of time is a joy unto itself. Sure, it probably could’ve been truncated into a decent short film, but in its longer form gives out an airier, more lived-in vibe. It’s not saying anything particularly fresh or profound, yet cannily eschews the most obvious sentimental storytelling choices in favour of something more gratifyingly melancholy.
Much-respected character actors Dale Dickey and Wes Studi prove to be great company in this gentle tale of childhood companions reconnecting decades later.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.