No doubt about, Song One has it’s heart in the right place. Set in Williamsburg and focusing on the indie music scene that populates that piece of North Brookyln, writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland‘s film explores the ties that bind a family together after a tragic accident.
One night after playing his guitar for subway commuters, Henry (Ben Rosenfeld) is struck by a cab. Trapped in a coma, his mother (Mary Steenburgen) summons his sister Frannie (Anne Hathaway) back home. Frannie soon becomes obsessed with her brother’s life, scouring his room for anything that might help bring him back to life.
She falls upon a journal full of thoughts and song lyrics, along with a CD made for her, featuring a song he recorded himself. There’s also a ticket to a concert by Henry’s favorite musician, James Forester (Johnny Flynn). Frannie attends the concert, meets James and explains her situation. What begins is a tentative courtship that revolves around the love of music.
A very specific kind of music. Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley and The Postal Service fame) and Jonathan Rice are responsible for the score here, comprised mostly of melancholy, folk-fused indie rock that works well enough, thanks in large part to Flynn’s clear talent as a musician.
Sadly, Flynn’s abilities as an actor are sorely lacking. Forester is meant to be an apprehensive sort-of indie star who’s bout with writer’s block informs a growing lack of confidence. This results in many scenes of mumbled dialogue filled with non-discussions about nothing worthwhile. Hathaway doesn’t do much better, mining very little chemistry next to Flynn. The Oscar-winner looks noticeably uncomfortable here, and we never quite believe the tragedy of the situation.
Steenburgen is mostly wasted in the role of ex-hippie mother whose judgments are both hypocritical and somewhat illogical. The arguments mother and daughter get into feel monumentally contrived, only further accenting the pure melodrama slowly, barely pushing the narrative forward.
Though the final act of the film offers one or two genuine moments of romance (one scene in particular in which James and Frannie look over his insane fan mail) that suggest a film that could have been, for the most part we’re waiting for the music breaks, of which there are plenty.
It’s the scenes without music that feel false, and Song One has far too many of them.
Song One premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2014. One can see our full coverage of the festival below.