Song One

| April 14, 2015

A love story that originates from a unique premise and grows slowly and softly, Song One is a delicate character-driven and musically-woven romantic drama that is at times tender, heartfelt and thoughtful, and at times balmy and dreary. Starring Oscar-winning actresses Anne Hathaway and Mary Steenburgen alongside South African-born musician/actor Johnny Flynn, the film features fine acting and a love story with chemistry, but no explosions.

Franny Ellis (Anne Hathaway) is working on her PhD in anthropology in Morocco when she receives horrible news from home– her brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield) is in a coma after getting hit by a car. Franny, recently estranged from Henry, returns to New York to be with her mother (Mary Steenburgen) and comatose brother. Upon finding Henry’s journal Franny begins to visit the music clubs and restaurants which Henry frequented and brings to him familiar smells and sounds that she hopes will awaken him. In the journal she finds Henry’s tickets for a show featuring his favorite artist, James Forrester (Johnny Flynn). Franny and James meet and forge a connection that is developed throughout the film.

I was suspicious of Song One, mainly because of the partial setting of the Brooklyn indie scene and Hathaway’s matching haircut, but luckily the character development is strong enough to save Franny and James from being stereotypes. Ok, so Franny is angsty, but understandably so. Flynn is really great as James Forrester, and not only because of his strong musical talent. James is shy, introversive and compassionate and Flynn does a wonderful job at not falling into any of the movie musician prototypes. He’s just kind of regular, and that is nice to see.

Writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland does a nice job navigating the story by not steering too much– nothing is forced and there is an honesty that emits through that. However, the danger with this approach materializes several times, and that is lag. The music is supposed to be a character in the film and it is, but there are too many moments throughout the that will send viewers drifting or pick up their books until the characters start interacting again.

It is a fine line– balancing the looseness that inspires honesty and the direction that inspires engaging storytelling. The softness of Song One is what is both great and not so great about the film. But as far as romantic dramas are concerned, it is a nice a welcomed detour from the land of Nicholas Sparks movie adaptations.

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