I thought there was no damn way Penn Badgley was performing the vocals as Jeff Buckley in “Greetings from Tim Buckley,” until he confirmed the contrary during a Q&A after the film’s US premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this week. Actor Frank Wood, who plays renowned guitarist and songwriter Gary Lucas, said the 26-year-old actor had “balls of steel,” for being able to accomplish what he did onscreen, portraying a dearly-loved and somewhat mystified musician and singer.
For those not familiar with Jeff Buckley’s music—he had a very unique four-octave range tenor voice and his one completed and released album Grace was one of the most acclaimed albums ever, so “balls of steel,” they must be!
Greetings from Tim Buckley is ambitious in that it intertwines the biographies and musical legacies of two distinct individuals, who did not have a shared history, despite the fact that they were father and son. The film focuses on Jeff Buckley’s reluctant involvement in his late father’s tribute concert in Brooklyn’s Saint Anna’s Church in 1991 and Tim Buckley’s life leading up to and right after the birth of his son. Young Jeff Buckley struggles with closure and forgiveness as he is awakened to his inheritances through the people who knew and/or admired the father he never had the chance to know, except through music.
Directed and co-written by Daniel Algrant (Naked in New York, People I Know), Greetings from Tim Buckley isn’t a stereotypical biopic. The film moves between two –periods of time and is really carried by music. We are not given a bunch of pivotal moments strung together or bits and pieces of songs or abridged performances—Tim Buckley’s music really lives and thrives in this film. Even for those of us who never knew Jeff Buckley had a famous, folk-singer father, the music is moving and does so much of the storytelling. The songs don’t lose any of their depth or weight for the sake of plot development.
And, thank goodness Gossip Girl is over, because although it was a great steady gig for Badgley and he probably made life-long friends—now he can do more of what he does in Greetings. His performance is transformative and astute, gentle and raw, and culminates with a moving recreation of Jeff’s legendary rendition of Tim’s “Once I Was.” (There is also an incredibly entertaining scene that has Jeff giving a spastic impromptu performance in a NYC record store that had everyone in the audience clapping and howling with cheers).