There’s no such thing as a hopeless romantic. Hope is what romance is built on, the hope that you’ll find the person who fills that missing part of your life, or warms something in you, or just makes the dull roar of the world go away. There’s definitely nothing hopeless in the achingly optimistic performance by Dale Dickey in A Love Songa rare and beautiful portrait of clinging to the promise of romance even if it seems impossible.
In movies as various as Palm Springs and Winter’s Bone, Dickey’s face has become filmmaking shorthand for a certain kind of weather-worn, West-to-Midwest, working-class life lived hard. But that’s the kind of life that, when you’re trying to put on a prestige Oscar-bait movie about the trials of folk that get mutteringly dubbed “white trash,” you cast as the supporting character or in a background role, like highly skilled set dressing. It’s borderline criminal that she’s never had the opportunity to hold a film by herself, and she does that right from the first moments of A Love Song. As Faye, she has had a life, one likely of more downs than ups, and that’s how she’s ended up camped out by a lakeside in Colorado, catching crawdads, drinking coffee, waiting on the mail (she’s remote enough that it’s delivered on horseback ) and for a particular letter. One that she hopes is coming, but she doesn’t know will, one from old flame Lito (the equally iconic Studi).
A Love Song doesn’t deal in glib platitudes, even if South by Southwest award-winning director Max Walker-Silverman undoubtedly indulges the audience in some playfulness (there’s a running joke about an engine that dances on the edge of silliness but stays on the charming side) . Dickey and Studi together are bashful and tender, kindling ready to reignite a spark that’s glowed within them for decades. However, this implies that this is a duet, and wonderful as Studi is as the flower-bearing Godot, finally turning up, this is Dickey’s film. Stripped down to her simplest wants, Faye is a naked soul with a life thoroughly lived, not sure whether she’s pulling on the past or crafting a new future in what little time she has left. There’s no ticking clock of disease or any such artificial motivator: She’s just at that age when chances don’t come along very often. Dickey understands that Faye doesn’t have time for regret, even as she sits by an empty lake, talking to herself, naming birds, trapping crawdads, and watching for the mail. That’s not something to regret, or time wasted. That’s hope.
And that’s A Love Song. It is beautiful, quiet, tender, and borne aloft by that rejection of the idea of hopelessness. You don’t have to believe in one particular romance, it whispers, to still believe in romance.