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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 13, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 07
Song One croons an all too familiar tune
Arts & Entertainment
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Song One croons an all too familiar tune

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SONG ONE
Now playing


Franny Ellis (Anne Hathaway) has returned home. Her estranged brother Henry (Ben Rosenfeld) is in a coma, and the last words she spoke to him six months prior were hardly loving. Overcome with grief, not sure how best to interact with her emotionally spent mother Karen (Mary Steenburgen), Franny seeks out her sibling's favorite artist, singer-songwriter James Forester (Johnny Flynn), her reasons for doing so ones she's figuring out as she goes along.

There isn't much more to say in regards to plot as far as writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland's feature narrative debut Song One is concerned. There will be music. There will be a budding romantic relationship between Franny and James. There will be scenes of confrontation, forgiveness and understanding between a grieving mother and her equally devastated daughter. All of this is pretty much guaranteed to happen, Barker-Froyland checking off each and every box on her checklist as the film moves through each one of its briskly paced 86 minutes.

And that's the problem. As nicely lived-in and as authentic as things might feel, the central dramatics never surprise, never go any place that feels slightly fresh or original. It takes a massively long time to warm up to Franny, the budding anthropologist a frigid and dour pyramid of depression, guilt and ennui whose constant malaise is close to insufferable. I get that she's grieving, and I also get she feels horrible about the last conversation she had with her brother. But none of that means she should be a chore to be around, watching her wander the streets trying to follow the footsteps outlined in Henry's diary nowhere near as interesting or as intriguing as they inherently should be.

At the same time, it's hard for me to dismiss Barker-Froyland's freshman outing entirely. She does a terrific job of transforming the little-known Brooklyn neighborhoods showcased within the film into their own uniquely beguiling characters, time and place almost more important than the blossoming romance itself proves to be. Additionally, she crafts an exquisite supporting part for Steenburgen, the tenacious actress giving Karen a fiery and fascinating dimensionality that continually surprises and enchants. It's a bewitching turn, and every time she stepped into the frame I found I couldn't take my eyes off of her for a single solitary second.

But the music is oddly forgettable, never taking on a life of its own or transcending the inherent melodramatics of the scenario. While nicely sung and performed, I can't say any of them stuck with me in a way that mattered, save a silly little ditty revolving around whether or not Franny and James will head up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. On the whole the majority are blandly unappealing, and for a movie that revolves almost entirely upon each character's connection to music this is a fatal flaw indeed.

I like that Hathaway throws so much of herself into things, giving a raw, almost naked performance free of movie star glamour or artifice, and I appreciate the laidback, documentary-like approach Barker-Froyland uses to navigate through things start to finish. Yet, my excitement level never got above lukewarm at any point, and even with a final 15 minutes that are much, much better than anything that preceded them, that still isn't enough to make Song One more than an intriguing curiosity and sadly little more than that.

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Song One croons an all too familiar tune
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