Film Review: A Song for Imogene


Trapped in an unhappy relationship and a life going nowhere fast, Cheyenne’s (Kristi Ray) discovery that she is pregnant gives her the kick that she needs to leave her partner, Alex (Hadyn Winston). American writer-director Erika Arlee’s debut feature showcases strong performances and nice visual flourishes, but A Song for Imogene struggles to find an emotional hook.

The film’s strongest suit is undoubtedly in its lead, Ray who invests her Cheyenne with a kind of hopeless resolve. There is a sinister edge to her relationship with Alex but its more often felt through Ray’s quiet performance than Alex’s explicit behaviour, and is the more effective for it, skirting melodramatic histrionics for slippery manipulation. On the page, Alex is somewhat underwritten but Winston brings dimension to the role: he’s a nasty, jealous piece of work but he gives Alex the space to fill out as a real person.

Similarly, there’s an honest messiness to the way that after Cheyenne leaves Alex, she has nowhere else to go but her mother’s, whose subsequent untimely death further complicates her situation before Cheyenne’s sister Janelle (McKenzie Barwick) arrives with her son, Noah (Jaydon Hayes), in tow. While Janelle wants to live in their late mother’s house with Noah, Cheyenne wants to sell. Meanwhile, Alex is coming looking for her.

The emotional tension during this second act simmers but never fully boils. Its thematic lynchpin – the guitar that Cheyenne sells for cash and the symbol of her lost passion for songwriting – is never satisfactorily resolved and is neatly emblematic of the film’s central problem: for all its emotional honesty, A Song for Imogene never quite finds a way to find a narrative arc through which to direct its drama. The result is a second and third act that feel like they’re waiting for something to happen to their characters, rather than directing those characters along the dramatic foundations the film had already established.

The consequence is that when we do arrive at the film’s conclusion, it feels more of abrupt stop than an ending, as if we’re waiting for another verse that isn’t to come. Similarly, a recurring exterior shot of Cheyenne reflecting on her life in dappled sunlight feels oddly overdone, even emotionally unmotivated that might have played better with a stronger narrative. What we’re left with is the idea of a good film, but not a good sense of what it is about. In its constituent parts, A Song for Imogene is a success, but as a whole it’s sadly off key.

Christopher Machell