Max Walker-Silverman’s debut feature “A Love Song” which premiered at Sundance this year, brings together two iconic actors, Dale Dickey and Wes Studi, who we have seen play a variety of rough and tumble characters in films that include “Winter’s Bone” and “Last of the Mohicans.” Now drop them into a tender story about affection and lost connections that moves like a Chloé Zhao slice-of-life drama and watch these two thespians create something magical.
Dickey, a 60-year-old Southerner, and Studi, a 74-year-old Native American, seem predestined to coalesce in a Western, albeit a romantic one comes as a nice surprise. She plays Faye, a widowed nomad who is temporarily living off the land at a campsite in the picturesque Colorado Rockies. Food comes in the form of crawdads caught at the local lake. Entertainment, from an old portable radio that belts out country classics after a random twist of the tuning knob.
Life in the small camper may be too monotonous for most but once you reach a certain age suddenly what seemed so important in the past, holds no value in the present. Faye has grown accustomed to being alone. Never once does she come across as bored or lonely. There is however a longing deep down inside her that can only be driven by time. It usually happens late in life when upon reflection one begins to wonder about past lovers, possibly an encounter with what could have been a soulmate, or a missed opportunity.
For Faye, the object of her yearning is Lito (Wes Studi), a childhood friend. The two crossed paths in their youth but life took them in different directions. Both, now single and widowed, are on a trajectory to reunite thanks to Faye’s invitation sent in the form of a letter asking Lito to meet her at the campsite. Will he respond? She’s not even sure if he received the invite but for now, she’s hopeful.
Writer-director Walker-Silverman, moves the story along at a casual pace, the monotony broken by interesting characters we meet along the way. There’s Postman Sam (John Way) who delivers mail on horseback. He stops in for an occasional coffee and chit-chat but never has any mail for Faye. Then there’s little cowgirl Dice (Marty Grace Dennis) and her grown-up brothers who show up at Faye’s campsite asking, “Ma’am, we was wondering if you might be willing to move your trailer?” The shovels in hand indicate there ready to do some digging. We later learn the reasoning behind their strange request. And finally, we meet Jan (Michelle Wilson) and Marie (Benja K. Thomas) who are camping nearby. The gay couple is thinking about tying the knot, but there are reservations they hope to resolve during their sojourn.
Dickey carries the film for the first half. She’s captivating to watch even when she’s just looking out at the horizon. Walker-Silverman and cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo are smart to zoom in for close-ups, the Tennessee-born actor is proficient at conveying emotions with just a glance or expression.
The film reaches an apex when Studi arrives, flowers in hand, to reunite with his childhood friend not knowing what to expect. The Cherokee Nation actor shares the intensity of his costar, the universe aligned for this matchup. I won’t give away what happens, but I will say the scene where Studi and Dickey hold an impromptu guitar sesh is one to be treasured.
“A Love Song” marks a promising debut by Max Walker-Silverman who like so many successful filmmakers, sticks to stories from his own backyard. Calling Southwest Colorado his home, let’s hope for a few more stories from the American West before Hollywood comes knocking down his door. Dale Dickey and Wes Studi give us a glimpse of their range with two of the most memorable performances of the year.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing at the Angelika Film Center (Dallas) and the Angelika Film Center (Plano)