Song One (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Franny (Anne Hathaway), who is working on her Ph.D. in Anthropology overseas, receives news that her singer-songwriter brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield), had been involved in an accident. He is in a coma and there is a possibility that he may never regain consciousness. Guilt-ridden from their last fight and feeling helpless about the situation, Franny retraces Henry’s steps using his notebook which is full of lyrics, thoughts, and favorite places to visit.
The problem with “Song One,” written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland, is its tonal inertness. Ninety minutes is composed of taking turns between a woman looking sadly at her comatose brother and live performances by James Forester (Johnny Flynn), an artist that Henry admires greatly. The picture does not go anywhere for a long time and halfway through one cannot help but wonder two things: who is the audience and what is the point of telling this story because it offers nothing special.
Hathaway almost singlehandedly saves the film. Even though her character is somewhat one-dimensional, I enjoyed her commitment. The pixie haircut works to her advantage because her features are all the more salient—particularly helpful during close-ups in which she is required to summon and express every minute emotion of confusion, rage, regret, and helplessness. There are moments when she does not speak a word and yet I was engaged. I wondered what the character is thinking or feeling, whether the smile drawn on her face is genuine or a convincing front. I felt the strength of Franny.
Less intriguing is the romance that develops between James and Franny. It is predictable from a mile a way that the two will eventually fall for one another. The material takes a long time to get to that destination and when we get there, it comes across anticlimactic. The picture might have been stronger if the romantic angle had been excised altogether and focused on the family that is barely standing on its feet.
Worth exploring further is the relationship between Franny and her mother (Mary Steenburgen). When the two are in the same shot, there is tension; the silence is almost deafening because we understand that they need to talk about what is on their minds. We grow suspicious as to when and where the eruption will take place.
Generally, the songs in “Song One” are hit-or-miss. Although the various performances that Franny comes across during her lamentation do have obvious talent in them, the songs, collectively, reflect that of the picture: tonally flat, almost always sad, unpolished, quirky. These are not all negative qualities but we grow to expect these traits eventually and so a passive experience is created.