Film Review – Song One
Just to get this out in the open, I am not a passenger on the hate train for Anne Hathaway. While she seems a little bland, it’s nothing to get all nasty about. I don’t really get the vitriol directed towards her; it just seems out of proportion to anything she’s actually done. (Or not done as the case may be.) But whatever, she’s the female lead in Kate Barker-Froyland’s feature debut, Song One, and she does just fine. But I do have one weirdo complaint, so I’m going to make it now before I start with the real film review, because my issue is petty and should not distract from the important and insightful things I have to say about this movie. (Yeah, I crack myself up too.) I hate everybody’s hair in this movie. I try very hard not to talk about personal appearances in my reviews, but what the hell people? Giving Anne Hathaway a crappy haircut does not signal that she is a serious actor. This haircut is unflattering and unnecessary and makes her look uncannily like Liza Minnelli. Which is fine, but then just cast Liza Minnelli. (Which is ridiculous, but I would have paid a lot of money to see Liza as the lead in this film. It would have been sublime.) Also, Johnny Flynn, wash your hair! (Old lady rant over.)
Song One tells the story of Franny (Anne Hathaway), an anthropology PhD candidate studying nomads in Morocco. She receives a phone call from her mother notifying her that her brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield) is in a coma after being hit by a car. Franny rushes back to the states to be by her brother’s bedside, where she’s racked with guilt since the last words she’d had with her brother six months ago were about him dropping out of college to pursue a music career. He’s obsessed with writing songs, and his hero is indie rocker James Forester (Johnny Flynn). She finds a ticket to one of Forester’s performances in her brother’s notebook and goes to see his show. She introduces herself afterwards, and unloads her story as a way to connect her brother somehow to the singer he loves. To her surprise, James shows up at the hospital the next day and the two of them strike up a friendship while Franny tries to find her brother’s love of music within herself.
By all rights I should really hate this movie; it’s got so many things I dislike: family drama, serious acting haircuts, and twee folk-inspired indie songs. But as someone who gave birth to a person who thinks the sun rises and sets with Jenny Lewis – who is one of the writers of the film’s music – I can recognize that the songs are actually pretty good. But what’s better is the way they are filmed; there are a lot of really fun performances in this movie. But the very best thing about this film is the sound, which I’m not entirely sure how to talk about, but I’m going to take a stab at it anyway. In order to review Song One, I was given a link to an online screener. I hooked my computer up to my nice television, but listened to the audio through my husband’s super fancy headphones. (Which also receive prominent product placement in this film.) Amazing. The music is good, but great care is taken with the soundscapes that Franny records for her brother, as well as the ambient noise that takes place behind the dialogue. I found myself really listening, and this quality helps the movie succeed in spite of some weak writing.
And that’s the sore spot for me here. The family drama stuff is clichéd. I know Barker-Froyland wants to ground the film in something that feels real, but it doesn’t work for me. The relationship between Franny and her mother (Mary Steenburgen) just doesn’t gel, and it’s mostly because they aren’t given an original thing to say to each other. The friendship between Franny and James is more of a fairytale, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The film works best when the two of them are interacting and trying to give each other a little joy. (Although, the film totally cheats us BY NOT SHOWING US THEIR FIRST KISS. SERIOUSLY? Honestly, that’s what I want to see in a romantic movie.)
Yeah, I would really rather watch a movie about a demon-possessed sentient helicopter than one about the transformative power of music and love, but I ended up enjoying this anyway. I liked the songs and the romance and the earnestness of the message. It’s got some problems, but it’s a hell of a first feature film and I’m looking forward to seeing what the director does next.