Review: 'Song of Sway Lake' falls flat

Rory Culkin stars in nostalgia drama that never finds the right balance

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Rory Culkin in "The Song of Sway Lake."

A paean to a distant time that never quite sings, "The Song of Sway Lake" is a nostalgia piece about family discord that often seems at odds with itself.   

Rory Culkin plays Ollie, whose family long ago grew up on Sway Lake, an exclusive vacation spot for New York's upper crust.

The lake bears Ollie's family's surname, which was made famous in a popular vintage recording. After the suicide of his father, Ollie comes back to the family house to collect his dad's pristine copy of a rare collectible record so he can sell it. 

Along for the ride with Ollie is Nikolai (Robert Sheehan), his Russian pal whose outward charms dwarf those of the inward Ollie.

At the same time, Ollie's grandmother Charlie (Mary Beth Peil) also comes looking for the record. Charlie harbors bitterness toward her son and her grandson, but buries it under a veneer of false sincerity.

She is also fighting a local ordinance that would make Sway Lake public, which would chip away at what made the spot a destination in happier, more innocent times, which sets off a fight with the townies. 

While Ollie falls for a local at the lake (Isabelle McNally), Nikolai harbors a crush on Charlie. And co-writer and director Ari Gold can't seem to figure out which story he's trying to tell, and ends up with an inter-generational drama about family ties, the passage of time and the longing for an ideal that maybe never existed, mixed with a limp heist tale and a few scattered, half-hearted romances.  

In short, it's a mess -- an often lovely, atmospheric throwback with some clear personal flourishes, but a mess nonetheless. It has too many competing elements and winds up hitting all flat notes.


'The Song of Sway Lake'


Rated R for language, graphic nudity and some sexual content

Running time: 100 minutes