Ari Gold is a joyously unique filmmaker responsible for some brilliant short films like Culture, Helicopter, and my personal favorite, Frog Crossing. I recently had the chance to watch his first feature, Adventures of Power it’s a hilarious and inspirational film about a man pursuing his passions and becoming content with who he was and who he was born to be: the world’s best air drummer. The concept and the tone of that film is exceptionally charming and quirky, but from what I gathered from our interview on the Film Threat podcast (which you can listen to by clicking here), The Song of Sway Lake was in no way a comedy, instead Gold’s new film co-written with Elizabeth Bull was aiming to be a more serious family drama. Minutes into the film, you get a sense of Gold’s unique style of storytelling, both visually and with the dialogue. Ari Gold has this peculiar approach to filmmaking that makes him stand out from his peers without being cheap and gaudy.
“It’s easier to lose a Father than to lose a son.”
Rory Culkin plays the film’s lead, Ollie. After Ollie’s Father commits suicide, Ollie teams up with Nikolai (played by Robert Sheehan) to steal a rare and priceless 78 vinyl record from his family’s lake house. Nikolai is a suave and mysterious Russian ladies man who Ollie has bonded with despite only knowing him a few weeks. Ollie’s grandmother, Charlie (played beautifully by recent Tony Award nominated actress Mary Beth Peil) soon arrives shortly thereafter to foil the duos efforts. Peil is amazing in the role; she treads this razor fine line between being a nurturer and a mean-spirited, bitter mother dealing with loss and regret. There’s this haunting line exchange between her and another character where she’s asked why she’s so hard on Ollie, and she says something akin to, “It’s easier to lose a Father than to lose a son.” In this line delivery, Peil comes off as so real, and so convincing in her sadness that I guarantee it will break your heart. Her antagonistic relationship with Culkin’s character brings out the best performance I’ve seen from the actor, and it’s fun to watch him uncomfortably squirm in her presence and believable as the tension between the two of them builds and builds. Sheehan’s character comes off a little one-dimensional at times, but there’s a sense of vulnerability towards Peil’s character and a reveal in the third act that makes him a complex and relatable character.
“…it’s like watching art that has a uniqueness to it.”
The film’s lake town setting makes for strikingly gorgeous cinematography. Gold’s camera work should be praised here, as his shot designs are engaging and complex and his use of vibrant, golden colors are a nice break from the muted and dark colors we’re seeing in most films released in theaters these days. I’m sick of all the teal, and thankfully this film uses it sparingly and appropriately in a few dream sequences and flashbacks. The editing choices Gold makes raises his film and story to exceptional heights, it’s like watching art that has a uniqueness to it, there’s something that just catches the eye about The Song of Sway Lake, and it draws you in more than most of the films I’ve seen this year. The soundtrack is enjoyable and appropriately captures the film’s themes of longing to recapture better days. The reveal of the titular track is amazing and Ari Gold’s twin brother, Ethan, deserves praise for his musical contributions. The film’s absurdly strong performances, music, and aesthetics all bring to life a wonderful film you won’t want to miss. Do yourselves a favor, and buy a ticket when it comes your way.
The Song of Sway Lake (2017) Directed by: Ari Gold. Written by: Elizabeth Bull and Ari Gold. Starring: Mary Beth Pail, Rory Culkin, Robert Sheehan, Elizabeth Peña, Isabelle McNally.
9 out of 10