While it isn’t the most original riff on the inspirational musical drama, Song One manages to carry a tune and overcome a basic, perfunctory script thanks to a strong soundtrack and two leads with solid chemistry.
After Henry (Ben Rosenfield) gets hit by a car and falls into a coma, his sister Franny (Anne Hathaway) comes home to be by his side. Naturally as these films go, they previously had a huge falling out and they haven’t spoken in months. To help her brother, Franny seeks out the musicians and artists in his life that inspired him in hopes of trying to get him to wake up, and so she can better understand what he was up to in her absence. She manages to track down his musical idol, James Forester (Johnny Flynn), at a local show. A romantic bond blooms between Franny and James.
It’s far from perfect, but Song One is the kind of debut feature that you like to pay attention to. It’s well shot, occasionally stunning, and it allows the audience to appreciate the relationships between the characters without shoving heavy-handed, saccharine clichés down the throats of the audience. The story is as predictable as it can be, but at least it isn’t giving in to its own worst desires.
Writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland tells a very nice story in an effective manner. It’s hardly a brave, attention grabbing effort, but for a low budget independent debut, there’s nothing wrong with a simple base hit. It won’t knock anyone’s socks off, but it’s a great starting place. The love story and family stuff is engaging, but the background stories and subplots don’t have much to stand on. The first act also starts off a little rough, hinting that the film might not have much to offer, but in those early moments it’s clear that the cast has seen this as much as a labour of love as the director has.
Hathaway, who got to produce this feature with her husband, finds material that fits her wheel house well enough. She isn’t asked to carry a ton of singing; just the occasional chorus or melody. The weak first act of her returning home doesn’t give her a lot to work with, but she carries it well enough until the meat of the narrative can kick in. Flynn is understated, but solid, managing a shy, awkward chemistry with Hathaway that works well throughout, and his singing abilities helps bring it home. Mary Steenburgen is the only other familiar face as the mother of Franny, while Rosenfield gets some glimpses to shine in flashbacks.
While the performances are strong, much of the film’s success is based on the admittedly great music from the Alt-Pop duo of Jenny & Johnny (Jenny Lewis & Johnathan Rice). The music is a character itself, working much in the same way that the music of The Swell Season worked in Once. If the performances don’t draw you in, the music will almost instantly.
I can’t honestly that Song One is something that you need to rush out to see, and it comes with a very limited release here in Toronto, but it’s definitely worth the iTunes rental.