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Review: Full of nostalgia, ‘The Song of Sway Lake’ lacks for story

Robert Sheehan, left, and Rory Culkin in the movie "The Song of Sway Lake."
(The Orchard)

The indie drama “The Song of Sway Lake” is full of good ideas that never quite coalesce into an actual movie. Writer-director Ari Gold and his co-writer Elizabeth Bull chase a very particular feeling of nostalgia and regret, and while they catch it occasionally, the pursuit comes at the expense of an engaging plot.

Set in the early ’90s at an Adirondacks waterfront resort — named for the community’s most prominent family, who have fallen on hard times — “The Song of Sway Lake” mostly concerns a rare 78 rpm single, recorded exclusively for the Sways when they were flush. Rory Culkin plays Ollie Sway, a music-loving hipster hoping to find the old disc, to preserve the legacy of a father and grandfather who died tragically.

Mary Beth Peil plays Charlie Sway, Ollie’s grandmother, haunted by her own happy memories of the lake, but still planning to sell the property — records and all. Ollie and Charlie engage in a contest of wills, enlisting their friends and employees, while weighing what it means to be a Sway.

Gold does an excellent job of evoking the past. But there’s nothing really holding the film’s most poignant moments together: no narrative drive, and no sense of a larger world. This song has a catchy melody, but the arrangement is a mess.

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‘The Song of Sway Lake’

Rated: R, for language, graphic nudity and some sexual content

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept. 21, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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