Song One (2015)
Directed by: Kate Barker-Froyland
Premise: When an accident puts a young musician into a coma, his sister (Anne Hathaway) retraces his steps and starts a relationship with her brother’s favorite singer-songwriter.
What Works: Song One has some very strong lead performances. The film is led by Anne Hathaway as an anthropological PhD candidate whose work is interrupted by her brother’s accident. Although she is a fine actress and a popular Hollywood figure, Hathaway hasn’t appeared in a lead role in a live action film since 2010’s Love & Other Drugs; this is more reflective of the paltry number of female movie roles than of Hathaway’s talents as an actress and she takes the opportunity to remind viewers of how well she can inhabit her characters. Hathaway has a talent for projecting intelligence and confidence while also allowing her characters to be vulnerable. That is the case here and in Song One she is presented in a very demure way; the filmmakers shoot her with a lot of harsh, natural light and she features very little make up. The naturalistic look works for the role and it lends credibility to the budding romance between Hathaway’s character and a musician, played by Johnny Flynn. Flynn is also quite good in Song One; the part requires him to not only act the character but to sing and play multiple instruments as well and he is convincing in the part. Musicians are typically idealized as suave or romantic poet types but Flynn is much more realistic as a guy who has had a brush with fame but floats below the level of musical stardom. The accessibility of the character suits the movie because the story often forces the musician into the lives of people coping with a family tragedy and Flynn picks up on the awkwardness and uses it to his advantage. Mary Steenburgen is cast in a supporting role as the mother of Hathaway’s character and she gets some nice bits; the mother-daughter relationship is appropriately complex without being overly dramatic.
What Doesn’t: In the past few years there have been a number of films, usually set in New York City, that follow the lives of starving artists and usually match their musical efforts with a love story. Examples includes titles like Begin Again, Frances Ha, and the television show Girls. By comparison, Song One is a mixed effort. The filmmakers generally get the look right but there isn’t enough of the music and the story is flat. Song One does not feel as though it is going anywhere. The story and the characters aren’t working toward a conclusion or an epiphany, either personally or artistically. This film is less about its plot and more of a character study but neither Anne Hathaway nor Johnny Flynn’s character are examined closely enough and when Song One finally gets to its conclusion it is unclear what the point was. There are a lot of scenes that play well but Song One is weighed down by too many sequences of Anne Hathaway’s character acting sad. These moments get repetitive because very little else is going on. The story establishes that Hathaway’s character has an unresolved spat with her brother and she must face the possibility of never achieving closure now that he is comatose. That is an interesting premise but it isn’t followed through. Instead the story sends the character on a romance in which she gets with her brother’s favorite musician. Hathaway and Flynn’s scenes together play well but there isn’t a convincing narrative reason for him to be involved in her life and the film keeps forcing him back into the story; he shows up unannounced at the brother’s hospital room on multiple occasions. The forced nature of the romance in indicative of the film’s fundamental story problems. Song One has the raw parts to be something special but the filmmakers never quite assemble those elements into something that’s rewarding for the audience.
Bottom Line: Song One has some great stuff in it and the actors turn in some very strong performances but the story is unfocused. The script needed another draft and the whole project needed a greater sense of purpose.
Episode: #529 (February 15, 2015)