Dale Dickey has a face for the mountains. A Rugged, weather-beaten assemblage of intersecting lines, it’s a visage as chiseled as a sculpture carved in granite.
Dickey has contributed great work on TV and in the movies for more than two decades, earning numerous awards for her lived-in performance in “Winter’s Bone” (2010). She’s almost always in a supporting role—as the protagonist’s aunt or grandma, a no-nonsense matriarch, a sex worker on “My Name is Earl,” a drug addict on “Breaking Bad,” the occasional werewolf or zombie from the peripheries of prestige television.
In “A Love Song,” though (opening Friday at Living Room Theaters), she is always at the center of our attention. That glorious, literary countenance fills the frame, properly competing with nature’s bounty in its sprawling splendor.
Writer-director Max Walker-Silverman’s debut feature is set on a spacious campground in the unspecified “rural west.” Under a blazing and enormous sky, the tallest peak in the state rising in the distance, Dickey’s Faye sleeps in her camper and lives pretty much off the land. She catches her dinners in the adjoining lake, gets her entertainment from a battery-powered Longines Symphonette radio, and reads about her environs in the only two books in the camper—an Audubon field guide to the area’s birds, and a guide to the stars—using each to identify the tweets and constellations punctuating her morning and evening vistas.
Why is Faye here, exactly? We learn about her background in dribs and drabs—she used to fly planes for the Forest Service, she says—but at present, she’s waiting for a man who may or may not arrive. There is expectation in every rap on her camper door, every plume of dust kicked up by a tire from the campground’s rare motorist, every appearance from the horseback mail carrier whose bag may contain a letter from her suitor. For a while, “A Love Song” feels like “Waiting For Godot” meets “Nomadland.”
Other characters occasionally puncture Faye’s solitude, including a family of mostly silent siblings that seems to have drifted in from a Faulkner novel, who politely request that Faye move her camper, because they’d like to rebury their father, who happens to resting six feet under her wheels. There’s also a friendly Black lesbian couple on a road trip through the American west, whose presence in these parts is probably as rare a sight as an ivory-billed woodpecker or a Kirtland’s warbler.
To call “A Love Song” leisurely paced is to understate. Walker-Silverman gives both his viewers and his minimal cast plenty of space for contemplation and digression. I dare say that the average spectator of “A Love Song” can come and go—to the restroom, to the concession, to take a phone call—and return to the theater just as informed as the rest of the us. If you’re watching at home and feel the sudden urge to vacuum the carpet, go right ahead.
It’s debatable whether this approach is, in fact, a criticism. Many artistic masterpieces have been composed in minor keys, and certainly, too much plot can prove more cumbersome than its absence.
Without spoiling too much about Faye’s potential partner, “A Love Song” has more sweetness and melancholy than initially meets the eye. As a portrait of waywardness, coping and longing after a major loss, it’s a movie for a dwindling movie-theater demographic—the patient grownup—which is perfectly embodied by Dale Dickey’s stoic and sculpted presence.