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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘A Love Song’ Plays it Simple and Sweet

It’s always a pleasure when a talented character actor gets the starring role they deserve. With his modest debut feature A Love Song, director Max Walker-Silverman does just that for Dale Dickey. Known for her gritty portrayals of tough-minded women across film and TV, she shows a softer side in this lightly romantic drama. Yet she still conveys all the naturalism that makes her such a joy to watch.

Dickey plays Faye, a simple woman living a simple life. We meet her in a mobile home perched on open plains beside a lake and glorious mountain ranges. Her days are filled largely with quiet solitude, save for her intermittent interactions with neighbors. But though this initial impression may invite comparisons to Frances McDormand‘s Fern in Nomadland, A Love Song plays out in a much less vulnerable register. Rather than a homeless nomad running away from a painful life, Faye is a visiting camper with a specific purpose. After years apart, she expects to be reunited with a long lost childhood sweetheart (Lito, played by Wes Studi) on this particular camp site at this particular time.

It all feels terribly romantic, accentuated by the postcard-ready Colorado backdrop and the golden hues of the cinematography. But when the estranged duo finally meet, A Love Song eschews sentimentality for a more mature depiction of middle-aged romance. Instead of a teary-eyed leap into each other’s arms, they reconnect with the easygoing rapport of old friends. And as they become more relaxed and comfortable with each other, Wes Studi and Dale Dickey settle into the performances beautifully. Dickey is perfectly cast in particular, as her lined face, gravely voice and every-woman demeanor convey someone who has been through the whirlwind of life and came out the other side with wisdom and clarity. As she tenderly recalls her ill-fated experiences with love, it’s therefore very touching.

Those expecting more of these sensitive moments may be left disappointed by the film’s largely mellow tone. But Walker-Silverman’s filmmaking is never lacking in passion. Faye’s quaint conversations with the supporting characters, the sharp transitions of the editing and the camera’s judicious use of whip pans give the film a pleasant touch of quirkiness. And as he meshes these stylistic flourishes with the restraint of the main storyline, it showcases his obvious talent.

Ultimately, Walker-Silverman’s “Love Song” is more of a whispered sonnet than a full-throated power ballad. But it speaks honestly to loneliness and the precious encounters and friendships that make life worth living. It comforts with the same optimism expressed by one character when he says, “we’re gonna be okay.”

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Shane Slater

Shane Slater is a passionate cinephile whose love for cinema led him to creating his blog Film Actually in 2009. Since then, he has written for AwardsCircuit.com, ThatShelf.com and The Spool. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, he relishes the film festival experience, having covered TIFF, NYFF and Sundance among others. He is a proud member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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