Producers: Dan Janvey, Jesse Hope and Max Walker-Silverman Director: Max Walker-Silverman Screenplay: Max Walker-Silverman Cast: Dale Dickey, Wes Studi, Michelle Wilson, Benja K. Thomas, John Way and Marty Grace Dennis Distributor: Bleecker Street
Tender but with a vein of toughness underneath, Max Walker-Silverman’s low-key dramedy about a romantic reunion decades in the making boasts striking scenery and a couple of outstanding performances. Though “A Love Song” hobbles a bit when it inserts a few overly quirky notes into the proceedings, overall it’s a nice, gently touching two-hander that delivers on its message of seizing love whenever, and for however long, you can.
Though she’s been in films for nearly thirty years, Dale Dickey has rarely been called on to carry a picture; here she is, and handles the task masterfully. She plays Faye, a flinty widow with a leathery, weather-worn face who’s parked her truck and trailer at a numbered campsite beside a Colorado lake, where she does some lobster trapping. She looks for the irregular visits of the pleasant young mailman (John Way) who carries the letters and parcels on a horse he slowly leads along; she’s obviously hoping for a letter to arrive, but it never does.
Her neighbors from a nearby campsite, Jan (Michelle Wilson) and Marie (Benja K. Thomas), invite her over for dinner one night, and over the course of the evening Marie explains that they’ve been travelling together but that Jan is reluctant to make a final commitment to her. Crusty Faye ponders this, but, typically laconic, offers no advice. Her only other human contact is with a quartet of silent cowpokes and their spokesman, an exceedingly proper young girl (Marty Grace Dennis), who ask if she could move her trailer so they could dig under it. (They’re trying to unearth a grave with a possible treasure in it.) They leave with their shovels after she says she’s awaiting someone, but when their truck fails to start she tries unsuccessfully to fix it and then loans them the engine from hers; in return they leave their canoe with her, suggesting it would be fine for excursions, especially of a romantic sort.
Faye continues her sojourn, enjoying the songs provided by her radio and repairing whatever breaks down in her trailer. Just as she’s decided it’s time to leave, her expected visitor appears: Lito (Wes Studi), a childhood friend with a handful of flowers and a faithful old hound dog. He’s a widower too, and their reminiscences—allusive rather than explicit—indicate that they shared a close relationship before both married others. For a couple of days they share time together—ice cream cones, some sessions on the guitar he’s brought along (though he says, typically, that his wife was the real musician). They share an affectionate reunion that might just become something more, but in the end Faye gets her engine back and moves the trailer, leaving the cowboys and their cheeky spokes-girl to start digging, but not leaving before stopping by to offer Jan the advice she was reluctant to give earlier.
Writer-director Walker-Silverman moves his first feature along like a good short story, avoiding heavy-handed point-making in favor of quiet, reflective moments that he and his co-editor Alfonso Gonçalves allow to sink in without rushing, while cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo takes advantage of the starkly beautiful locations without turning them into picture postcard views. Juliana Barreto Barreto’s production design and Stine Dahlman’s costumes also prize simple grit over pictorial effect, just as Ramzi Bashour’s score, augmented with the periodic mournful songs, prizes straightforwardness over sentiment.
One could certainly argue that the interludes with the four would-be diggers, who comically confer with their spokesperson before deciding how she should graciously reply to Faye, are more than a little affected, and the film does overall demand a degree of patience with its lapidary style and elliptical parceling out of background information.
But the two lead performances are so direct and unpretentious that they transform what’s basically an anecdote about briefly recovering one’s past into a moving reflection on aging, regret, and acceptance. Studi, whose screen career is even longer than Dickey’s, makes an affectingly hesitant late-in-life gentleman caller, but it’s Dickey who anchors the film with an uncompromisingly authentic turn as a woman who’s obviously lived a rough life but emerged from it rugged and ready for anything. These two make “A Love Story” a brief encounter that leaves an aftertaste mixing warmth with resignation about missed chances.