Song One is Emotional but Ultimately Repetitive
Review by Daniel Rester
Song One is a melancholy, sometimes beautiful but mostly frustrating little indie film from feature debut writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland. The film stars Anne Hathaway as an archaeology student named Franny, who returns to NYC after her estranged brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield), enters a comatose. Henry dropped out of college to be a musician, which sends Franny on a journey to discover her brother’s favorite musicians while he is in his condition.
Franny eventually comes across indie darling James Forrester (played by real-life musician Johnny Flynn). The two of them quickly connect and Forrester even agrees to sing to Henry while he is in the hospital. As Franny and James’ relationship grows, they are tested by Henry’s situation and the fact that James will soon be leaving NYC after his shows.
Barker-Froyland’s film starts out wonderfully, really giving the audience a sense of place and emotion right away. She also handles the tender tone and bittersweet moods well throughout; the melodrama only seems too sappy on occasion. Cinematographer John Guleserian aids Barker-Froyland as well, crafting fine images that are provided with a smooth flow from editor Madeleine Gavin.
The two stars give heartfelt performances too, and their characters’ relationship feels real. Rosenfield is also strong in his brief but key scenes; Mary Steenburgen comes across less effective as the mother of Franny and Henry. Finally, the music by Jonathan Rice and Jenny Lewis is often soft and lovely when performed by Flynn. The song “In April” especially sticks in the head.
Despite the many lovely things about Song One, though, it is not entirely successful. Barker-Froyland establishes everything with a sure hand, but then the movie never really goes anywhere or has much to say beyond basic ideas of family dynamics. The audience is instead treated to repeated scenes of indie musicians performing and Flynn and Hathaway being cute.
Such elements as those described are fine and all, but the story never develops much beyond that and feels as if it is missing a certain dramatic weight to Henry’s situation. An 86-minute film shouldn’t feel stretched if there is enough to it, but this one simply doesn’t have enough there.
Song One is ultimately a slim and routine film in many ways, which is disappointing because of the obvious talent and care behind it. I still recommend the film to fans of Hathaway or acoustic indie music, though. Barker-Froyland is also a writer-director with a lot of promise. I just hope her future projects have the storytelling strength to match her attention to presentation and emotion. And because of those positives, I look forward to whatever she cooks up next.
My Score: 2 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B-).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for a scene of sexuality, and brief language).
Runtime: 1 hour and 26 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: January 23rd, 2014 (theaters and VOD).