Song One is an intimate, indie romantic drama with music, written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland. However, the songs—and there are many of them—play better than the romance or the drama. Henry (Ben Rosenfield) is first seen singing soulfully in the New York City subway tunnels. Two scenes later, he is lying in a coma, having been hit by a car. His mother (a charming Mary Steenburgen) quickly summons his sister Franny (Anne Hathaway) home from Morocco where she is studying nomadic tribes for her PhD in Anthropology.
Franny, who has been estranged from her brother for six months, tries to channel him by reading is journal, and going to his favorite haunts, such as a music venue or a diner for the pancakes he loves. She also records and plays back sounds that are familiar to him in an effort to help his recovery.
One of her journeys leads Franny to a concert by James Forester (Johnny Flynn), Henry’s favorite musician. Franny gives James a CD of a song her brother made, and suddenly the two strangers form an immediate connection. James visits Franny in her brother’s hospital room the next day, and later that night she goes out with him to check out the Brooklyn music scene.
Song One is enchanting during several of these “dates,” as the film showcases the couple seeing many different styles of music, from musician performing a Portuguese tune to a blues singer, as well as some country music band, and even Franny’s mother playing the accordion. However, while the music is novel, as the couple gets to know one another, the narrative clichés abound. James hasn’t written a new tune in the five years since his successful CD came out. Franny explains the fight she had with her brother that she now regrets. And, of course, as James and Franny start acting on their romantic attraction—there is a lovely scene where they sing to each other—he explains that his visit to New York will soon end and he must return home. As for the fate of the brother, there is no real tension there.
Hathaway carries much of the film, and she’s quite moving silently reacting to the CD her brother made for her, or watching him lying in his hospital bed. The scenes of her being reflective and not speaking (or singing) imbue Song One with its emotional core. However, Johnny Flynn is better singing than he is at acting. And while his songs are very nice (even if they all sound the same) his character is more enigmatic than charismatic. He is so bland one wonders what everyone sees in him.
Song One is the cinematic equivalent of a mix-tape. The tracks are all put together with care, but some work, some don’t, and the result is, well, ultimately mixed.
Song One opens today in Philly area theaters.