×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Song of Sway Lake’

A young man searches for a rare record at his grandparents’ lake house, where he must confront his past, in Ari Gold’s ungainly drama.

Director:
Ari Gold
With:
Rory Culkin, Robert Sheehan, Isabelle McNally, Mary Beth Peil, Elizabeth Peña, Jack Falahee, Jason Brill, Brian Dennehy.
Release Date:
Sep 21, 2018

Rated R  1 hour 34 minutes

Official Site: https://swaylake.com/

In her final film role, “The Song of Sway Lake,” the late Elizabeth Peña delivers withering looks — equal parts disgust and dismay — to a variety of characters, all of whom ably deserve her scorn. A clunky, lurching affair populated by barely sketched individuals who seem to be competing for a most-intolerable prize, Ari Gold’s drama concerns a young man who returns to his grandparents’ lake house in search of a rare treasure, for reasons as thinly defined as everything else in this saga. Shot years ago (Peña passed away in 2014), and released more than 15 months after its below-the-radar Los Angeles Film Festival premiere, it should have remained on whatever shelf it’s been occupying.

In the wake of dad Tim’s (Jason Brill) suicide, Ollie Sway (Rory Culkin) visits Sway Lake, a peaceful upstate New York idyll where he and best friend Nikolai (Robert Sheehan) hope to locate Tim’s never-opened and ultra-valuable record of the Eden Sisters singing a song dubbed “Sway Lake” (performed by The Staves). After promptly breaking in and acting like a couple of cartoonish drunken fools, they’re unexpectedly joined by Ollie’s grandmother Charlie (Mary Beth Peil) and her housekeeper Marlena (Peña). Charlie and her dearly departed military hero husband Hal lived in this place for years, but now a widow — and faced with community plans to develop the lake into a more commercial area, thus destroying its “purity” — she only wants to leave, albeit not before also finding Tim’s precious album.

That plot synopsis makes ‘The Song of Sway Lake” sound far more lucid than it is, considering director Gold’s penchant for expressionistic montages of overlapping past and present imagery (naked bodies and sinking watches in the water, old photos and trinkets) set to narrated love letters between Charlie and Hal (voiced by Brian Dennehy). Those sequences strive for lyrical wistfulness but come across as ungainly. That goes double for the primary story, which is often edited together in such a herky-jerky fashion that coherence is as rare and coveted as the item everyone so desperately wants.

Gold and Elizabeth Bull’s script explains much through scattershot exposition, including the fact that Ollie is, like his father, a devoted collector of classic records (which he likes to grade), and that Nikolai is a fatherless boy who’s been on his own for years. Nonetheless, even this spoonfed information does little to make them, or anyone else, seem like fully formed human beings; in every respect, they’re gratingly insubstantial. The most intolerable of this group — which also includes Isadora (Isabelle McNally), a featureless local girl whom Ollie fancies, and soon pursues — is Nikolai, who Sheehan embodies as a thickly accented, hyperactive clown less fit for a melancholy drama than a “Police Academy” film. And that’s before he starts falling for the decades-his-senior Charlie.

While Ollie eventually locates the record he seeks, “The Song of Sway Lake” never finds a thematic center around which to pivot its action. Everyone is coping with grief, regret, and loss of a past that can’t be reclaimed, yet the means by which they go about this is so helter-skelter phony that the film quickly devolves into a disjointed jumble of pronouncements, visions, flashbacks, and mid-20th-century American song snippets. Often set to Ethan Gold’s cascading piano, cinematographer Eric Lin’s picturesque depiction of this placid milieu is more affecting than any of the cast’s performances, which are undercut by Gold’s shaky formal structure. No amount of aesthetic grace, however, could help sell Nikolai’s eventual attempt to become a surrogate Hal stand-in for Charlie, replete with a kiss that’s awkward to the point of absurdity.

Film Review: 'The Song of Sway Lake'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., Sept. 19, 2018. (In Los Angeles Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: A The Orchard release of a Grack Films production, in association with Act Zero, Social Construct. Producers: Michael Bederman, Zak Kilberg, Allison Rose Carter, Ari Gold. Executive producers: Anne Bernstein, Garrett Fennelly. Co-producers: Elizabeth Bull, Brad Payne.

Crew: Director: Ari Gold. Screenplay: Ari Gold, Elizabeth Bull. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Eric Lin. Editor: Todd Holmes, Gabriel Wrye. Music: Ethan Gold.

With: Rory Culkin, Robert Sheehan, Isabelle McNally, Mary Beth Peil, Elizabeth Peña, Jack Falahee, Jason Brill, Brian Dennehy.

More Film

  • Nona

    Film Review: 'Nona'

    Twenty years and 12 features down the line, it’s still hard to peg the directorial sensibility of Michael Polish, with or without the presence of brother Mark as frequent co-writer and actor. His output has been all over the place, from early Lynchian quirkfests to the very middle-of-the-road inspirational dramedy “The Astronaut Farmer,” not to [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Wins for Best Film, Director at European Film Awards

    “Cold War,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s black-and-white romance set in the 1950s, scooped the prizes for best film, director and screenplay at the 31st edition of the European Film Awards on Saturday. “Cold War” star Joanna Kulig also won the award for best actress. Marcello Fonte, the star of Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” won for best actor. More Reviews [...]

  • The Favourite Bohemian Rapsody Star is

    The Best Movie Scenes of 2018

    When we think back on a movie that transported us, we often focus on a great scene — or maybe the greatest scene — in it. It’s natural. Those scenes are more than just defining. They can be the moment that lifts a movie into the stratosphere, that takes it to the higher reaches of [...]

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

    Box Office: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Soars Toward $35-40 Million Debut

    “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is swinging into theaters on a high note. Sony-Marvel’s latest output is launching to $42 million from 3,813 North American locations in its debut, though other more conservative estimates place that number at $35.5 million. The animated superhero story picked up $12.6 million on Friday, easily leading the pack for the weekend. [...]

  • Ventana Sur : Cinema226 Closes Four

    Cinema226 Announces Four Intl. Co-Productions, Hints at More (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexico’s Cinema226, run by Marco Antonio Salgado and Sam Guillén, is driving into a raft of Mexico, Argentina and Spain co-productions, playing off the current vibrancy of Mexican film production funding and distribution outlets. Among the projects are titles which have been standouts at Ventana Sur’s Blood Window, the next film by Mexico-based Argentine filmmaker [...]

  • Ventana Sur Debates Gender Parity in

    Ventana Sur Debates Gender’s 50/50 in 2020 for Argentina Film Industry

    BUENOS AIRES — Despite recent gains, namely the equality pledge towards 50/50-2020 signed at the Mar del Plata Film Festival on Nov. 12, producer Magalí Nieva, pointed out that no representative from INCAA was present following the apparent resignation of its vice-president Fernando Juan Lima. “We are left without an interlocutor to discuss gender policies [...]

  • Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass

    Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass Attendance, Structural Growth

    BUENOS AIRES — Celebrating its 10th anniversary with a huge hike in attendance to over 4,000 accredited delegates, the 2018 Ventana Sur will go down in history on multiple counts: Sales and pick-ups on movies which combined social comment and entertainment value, increasingly the new foreign-language movie standard; new sections, led by a Proyecta co-production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content