Relationships between family members can sometimes be complicated. Add death to the mix and things can turn dark and almost unbearable. In the new film The Song of Sway Lake, we get a wild mix of not only a life lost but of troubled souls struggling to make sense of their lives and forming new yet awkward bonds. This is a smaller movie than most but it has a wide scope and deals with a myriad of important issues. The location is gorgeous, the acting top notch, and the direction really quite special. The film recently screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival, earning high praise from those who were fortunate enough to view it.
Sway Lake focuses on two young men: Ollie Sway (Rory Culkin) and Nikolai (Robert Sheehan). Ollie’s father has committed suicide and as an act of anger, Ollie plans to steal a vintage 78 record from his wealthy grandmother Charlie Sway (Mary Beth Peil), who resides in a house on, you guessed it, Sway Lake. During the heist, Charlie shows up and over the course of a few days, the three form a special connection, especially free spirited Nikolai who develops romantic feelings for Charlie.
A human drama, through and through, Sway Lake is filled with colorful characters and interesting plot points. The performances by the three leads are great and Ari Gold’s (Adventures of Power, Helicopter) direction is a thing of absolute beauty. Rory Culkin (Signs, Mean Creek) leads the cast and shows that he is more than just Macaulay Culkin’s kid brother. The man actually has acting chops. The same can be said for Robert Sheehan (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Road Within) who really steals the show as a carefree Russian who eventually falls for Charlie. Tony-nominated actress Mary Beth Peil adds a touch of class to the proceedings as Ollie’s well-to-do and graceful grandmother who looks back on her husband Hal (voiced by Brian Dennehy) who is sadly out of the picture.
Filmed in upstate New York, the setting of Sway Lake is as much a character in the film as the people in it. The lake is calm and quiet and perfect for driving boats, going for the occasional swim, and even striking up a romance. During the course of the film, Ollie meets Isadora (Isabelle McNally), a young lady who lives in the area and together, their adorable courtship makes for some really endearing cinema. There is even a great yet understated performance from Charlie’s housekeeper Marlena, played by the late Elizabeth Peña. Though they are supporting characters, they leave a significant impact on the film.
Last but not least is the music in Sway Lake which is without a doubt one of the film’s best features. Singer-songwriter John Grant provides some awesomely authentic vocals, transporting the audience to the 1930s. There is an almost timeless quality about the film and for this reason, viewers are in for a real treat. All of the pieces of the production work in concert, putting together a picture that is not only beautiful to look at but is a pleasure to listen to. The Song of Sway Lake is not just a good film, it’s a moving experience that must be taken in, digested, and remembered fondly just like Charlie remembers her beloved Hal.