Loneliness can become overwhelming for older people who are divorced or widowed. That, in turn, can cause them to reminisce, to make efforts at reconnecting with old flames they haven't seen in decades, hoping to rekindle lost magic. Depending on how you look at it, that can be a hopeful act or an exercise in self-delusion. I know people who have done it. You probably do, too. The main characters in A Love Song are in this exact situation, and watching what happens between them is deeply touching.
The widowed Faye (Dale Dickey) is sitting at a rural Colorado campground. She's got a pickup truck, a trailer to sleep in, and a few small belongings. A group of Native locals comes by, asking her to move her vehicle in order for them to dig up the remains of an ancestor right underneath where she's parked. Faye informs them that she can't move because she's waiting for someone to meet her at this exact spot. We feel her jittery anxiety as she spends days sitting there in a folding chair, not knowing if her efforts are in vain.
Then Lito (Wes Studi) arrives. Faye is simultaneously nervous and excited. The two have a history together, but haven't seen each other in ages. They struggle to make conversation, eventually pulling out their guitars to play music. He produces a camera and takes her picture at one point. What will happen? Is that old chemistry still there? That's the drama in A Love Song. It may sound low-key on the surface, yet we watch with great anticipation as the former lovers try to determine whether a tiny spark can be fanned into a full-fledged flame.
This debut feature from writer/director Max Walker-Silverman is minimalist filmmaking at its best. Like Jim Jarmusch with his movies and Chloe Zhao with Nomadland, he's interested in the things that are felt but not necessarily said. He cares about what the faces of his characters register, rather than about trying to manufacture big dramatic scenes. The approach works. I don't think the picture would be as powerful if Faye and Lito dissected their reunion too much. A quieter approach lends more weight to the story's desire to explore the internal hope for healing through connection.
Besides, A Love Song doesn't need overt drama or long speeches with two extraordinary performers at the core. Dickey, who has long been a mesmerizing character actress, effectively moves front and center. She shows us everything we need to see with her eyes – Faye's trepidation as she waits, her insecurity about whether Lito thinks she looks too old, the efforts to determine if his hope of reconciliation matches hers. You feel every ounce of what this woman experiences. This is Oscar-caliber work from Dickey. Studi, best known from The Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves, matches his co-star beat for beat. He implies Lito's good intentions, along with the fact that this man has his own pain, and therefore his own motivations for the reunion. Dickey and Studi work up potent chemistry, having their characters do a tenuous dance that neither they, not we, know the outcome of.
I would never dream of giving away the resolution of this coupling. What can safely be said, though, is that A Love Song is not a “Will they or won't they?” story so much as it's a tale of possibilities in life, and how feeling that possibilities exist can be enough to keep pushing us forward when our instincts are to stop. This is a beautiful, compassionate work about two lost souls looking to find themselves again. With Dickey and Studi at the helm, you may not see a more affecting screen romance all year.
out of four
A Love Song is rated PG for mild thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.