Review: ‘Song One’

Written & Directed by Kate Barker-Froyland
Starring Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Ben Rosenfield & Mary Steenburgen

Now Playing in Select Theaters

During her week of promotion for Song One, Anne Hathaway stopped by The Daily Show to chat with Jon Stewart. Quickly they were dying in laughter. She zipped out a condensed version of the film’s plot, ending her sentence with, “and then he gets hit by a car and is in a coma.” The two couldn’t keep it together. The film, written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland, isn’t as preposterous as that abbreviated description, which unfortunately but understandably hides a sweet, mild-mannered story of pain and recovery.

song-one-movie-poster-612Hathaway, still in cropped hair, plays Franny, studying in Morocco as an anthropology Ph.D. candidate. After a brisk walk through town, she gets news about her brother’s (Ben Rosenfield) nearly fatal accident (see above). Not so funny now. She returns home to New York immediately to her grieving hippie mother (a great Mary Steenburgen) and her emotional baggage begins to spill. Her old room is in boxes. Her brother may never wake up. She hasn’t spoken to him in six months. The only things that bring him to life are his recorded music and lyric diary, pages of folk songs and favorite bands.

Smothered by regret and too impatient to wait at his bedside, Franny embarks on a musical treasure hunt, locating her brother’s favorite Brooklyn concert halls—Pete’s Candy Store, for example—and singers, notably James Forrester (Johnny Flynn), a small star who she meets after he performs one night. He’s conveniently in between tour dates and losing his inspiration so he visits the hospital the next day. Of course, you know where this is going. A dinner, then a rooftop jam session, then a trip to a Williamsburg dance club. In their creative lapses, they experience some kind of temporary symbiotic attraction.

James, wearing long blonde hair and a stoic look, shies away from the flocks of girls that blush beside him. He’s believable as a semi-famous artist, not necessarily as a love interest. But Hathaway, who also produced this, convinces you he’s worth something more than just his weathered looks. She ends up provoking a personality from him besides his several guitar serenades that stitch scenes together. The music, from singer Jenny Lewis and her partner Johnathan Rice, isn’t particularly memorable but importantly doesn’t overpower a script built on soft dialogs and tiny moments.

One of those takes place on a Brooklyn rooftop overlooking Manhattan. Unlike turning into some other small, quirky musical-healing films like last year’s Frank or God Help The Girl, Barker-Froyland keeps Song One grounded in a pleasant, recognizable reality. Nobody casually breaks into verse or evokes lyrical melodrama. In the night air, above the traffic noise and river tide, the two celebrate and lament the fleeting serenity music provides, those three to five minutes that you want to make last forever. “You should try playing longer songs,” Franny tells James. He, like the film, is smart enough not to take her advice. Enjoy the moment, then move on.

– Jake Kring-Schreifels

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