Every now and then a debut feature film comes out that reminds you that not everybody dying to direct a movie is a slave to genre. Some filmmakers love actors and how they can touch, move and even inspire an audience.
“A Love Song” is an autumnal romance starring two of the best character actors in the business. If nothing else had gone right in Max Walker-Silverman’s first feature, the fact that he put screen veterans Dale Dickey and Wes Studi in the spotlight stands him in good stead. They make the showcase he paired them up in a lovely elegy on loneliness, loss and the rose-colored memories of youth.
Dickey was 15 years and scores of credits into her career when “Winter’s Bone” transformed her raw, weathered looks into a one of the most instantly-recognizable faces in film (“Hell or High Water”) or TV (Netflix’s “Unbelievable”). She stars as a solitary soul camping out by a Colorado lake in her ancient Shasta trailer.
Faye drinks her beer at room temp, makes her coffee from lake water, traps giant crayfish to eat and keeps to herself on this campsite in the heart of Nomadland. There’s vintage country blues on the radio, all sorts of flora, fauna and star-gazing she masters thanks to a couple of Audubon guides, and the occasional visit from the friendly young horse-riding postman (John Way). He’s important, because Faye wrote a letter. Any day now, she’s expecting a reply, or a visit from a high school flame from these parts.
Other nomads camp nearby, but well out of eyesight, not spoiling her mountain peak view or daily nature rambles. But Faye has her routine and her eye on the calendar. She’s giving this guy until mid-September to show.
The Oscar-winning Studi, a Native American screen icon since “Dances With Wolves,” “Last of the Mohicans” and “Geronimo,” is that guy. He shows up with a dog, a guitar and a lot of memories, most of them bittersweet.
Walker-Silverman keeps the dialogue spare and lets these two tell their stories with their faces and a sort of genteel shyness. It takes few words, a few looks and a few reminiscences to get them from “You know me?– “I don’t know.” to “Look at you. Look at us.”
The film is adorned with other lovers — a gay couple (Michelle Wilson and Benja K. Thomas) to pop the question — and a pleasantly cutesy quintet of siblings looking to rebury their patriarch, with the little girl (Marty Grace Dennis ) in their cowboy-hatted ranks their designated spokesperson. Faye’s parked on an unmarked grave, which requires a little good-mannered finessing.
Faye’s story is the one we’re following, the one wondering, “Reckon you can still love something that ain’t there no more?” It’s a fine, compact and soulful turn, on a par with Frances McDormand’s “Nomadland” performance. Studi adds more awkward grace to the proceedings, and a guitar lesson that leads to a sweet duet, Michael Hurley’s “Be Kind to Me,” a popular tune from their (@1971) high school years.
I’m taking the liberty of reviewing this slight and scenic cinematic chamber piece a few weeks before it opens, because it’s worth asking about and asking for at your local cineplex.
“A Love Song” is a lovely, valedictory film for two of the best actors of their generation, so it’s worth the effort you make to track it down. Any time a movie maker crafts something this gentle and fine for two wonderful players who rarely get the spotlight is to be celebrated.
Cast: Dale Dickey, Wes Studi.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Max Walker-Silverman. A July 29 Bleecker St. release.
Running time: 1:21