Song One (2014) / Drama-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, and brief language
Running Time: 86 min.
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen, Ben Rosenfield
Director: Kate Barker-Froyland
Screenplay: Kate Barket-Froyland
Review published January 26, 2015
Anne Hathaway (Interstellar, Rio 2) stars as Franny, a PhD candidate in archaeology who returns to New York City from a dig halfway around the world after her mother (Steenburgen, Last Vegas) calls to inform her that her younger brother Henry (Rosenfield, A Most Violent Year), with whom she had a bitter disagreement that wedged them apart, had been hit by a car and lies in the hospital in a coma. While she anxiously awaits Henry's recovery, she sifts through his personal things and discovers her brother to be a musician, an artist and a dreamer, with far more sides to him than she had ever seen before, including his particular adoration for a folk-rock musician named James Forester (Flynn, Clouds of Sils Maria), who happens to be playing a concert in town. As Franny begins to explore Henry's insular world, she attends the concert and approaches James after the show, tells him her story, and after James pays a surprise visit, a bond begins to form.
Song One is a delicate, downbeat film featuring some nice acting performances and lovely music, spinning a tale that there's sometimes more to life than just a traditional career trajectory. The first-time feature direction by Kate Barket-Froyland captures the dreamy attitude of the characters, their music, and their state of mind, and manages to hold the tone together well enough through the story contrivances to ultimately emerge as a more soft-spoken successor to such films as Once and Begin Again. This is the kind of movie where characters always have to meet each other on a whim, especially when it will be a surprise, when a simple text or call would be what would actually happen in real life. It's a film where CDs and cassettes are still passed around, and people choose to hand write all of their missives, especially when adorned by sketches and curlicues. Yes, this one's for the hopeless romantics among us.
Hathaway is one of those actors that I am usually skeptical about whenever I embark upon a movie in which she plays a significant role, and she always surprises me. She does get to sing a couple of songs, mostly just to herself, and though we all have seen how well she can sing from her stellar supporting role in Les Miserables, she admirably downgrades her vocal talents for the purpose of realism -- her character enjoys singing a tune, and has a nice voice, but you don't sense James will be dragging her to the recording studio anytime soon. Steenburgen is as solid as you'd expect in support, and musician/actor Johnny Flynn is a nice complement to the veteran stars, playing the introverted dreamer who uses his songs to articulate his true inner feelings far more than he can bring himself to say in a normal conversation. The songs are primarily by Jenny Lewis and boyfriend Johnathan Rice (aka Jenny & Johnny), plus Bright Eyes' Nate Walcott, but Flynn belts them out them with alarming authenticity.
Barker-Froyland commendably lets the relationship between anguished Franny and lovelorn James breathe quite a bit before things begin to develop, and resists the kinds of heavy-handed narrative turns you'd expect from a film that seems destined to tug at the heartstrings. Some might find the slight narrative and light touch to be a bit too airy to truly dig into, but there are enough tender and touching moments to be worthwhile for viewers who prefer stories like they like their music, told as subdued and reflective poetry of a vulnerable heart. As with relationships, those with patience and ability to listen will reap greater rewards. You can dismiss it as breezy, but I'd prefer to call it a welcome breath of fresh air.
©2000 Vince Leo