Song One: Music and melancholy

Song One: Music and melancholy
Song One, starring Anne Hathaway and Johnny Flynn, delves into the world of New York's budding musicians.

Following a spate of recent films about the ordinary lives of musicians and accompanied by a ready-to-download soundtrack, Song One comes across like one of the melancholy folk songs it features: moody, low-key and vaguely appealing.

New York is a city with a vibrant music scene - with live music venues catering to all genres and buskers on street corners doing the same, it seems. The film, written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland, is both a romantic drama and a simple tribute to the indie music scene: performed, as it were, by a one-man band rather than a 50-piece orchestra.

Franny (Anne Hathaway) is pursuing her PhD in anthropology in faraway Morocco when her mother (Mary Steenburgen) calls with news that her brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield), a budding folk musician, lies comatose in hospital after being hit while crossing the street.

Franny is both fearful for her brother's life and stricken with guilt because she had assailed him about his decision to drop out of college to become a musician.

They haven't spoken for months and she coldly ignored all the music samples he sent. Now, she decides to atone for her hostile response by visiting his hangouts and reproducing the familiar sounds and smells of his life in the hopes of rousing him. She also reads her brother's journal, trying to grasp his life and get into his personal head space.

The quest leads to James (Johnny Flynn), a successful singer on the folk-music circuit who is also Henry's role model. James is the shy and sensitive sort, letting his emotions speak through the intimate nature of his songs. He shows up at Henry's hospital room, genuinely hoping to mend a life interrupted; naturally enough, he and Franny make a connection too.

They ease into a relationship of sorts, even though her brother is an unwitting catalyst and much of the courtship happens in places that are familiar to Henry. In the process, Franny gains insight and comes to appreciate her brother's choices in life. James, meanwhile, is stuck in a creative rut: he is riding on past success but he can't seem to come up with material for a follow-up album. Unless he's inspired by… well, you know how this story goes.

To the filmmakers' credit, Song One doesn't always take the obvious route. Music and romance typically make a good match and even though there are moments when it threatens to descend into melodrama, the film mostly steers clear of trouble.

The original songs (by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice) are appropriately delicate (if not quite hummable) and the actors are in sync - and that's about all this little life story needs.

Rating: B-


This article was first published on Mar 6, 2015.
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