What We’re Watching: ‘Song One’

Media Credit: Anna McGarrigle | Senior Designer

★★✰✰✰

Released: Jan. 23
Director and writer: Kate Barker-Froyland
Genre: Drama
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Mary Steenburgen, Johnny Flynn, Ben Rosenfield

In the first scene of the musical drama, “Song One,” a young Henry Ellis (Ben Rosenfield) is playing a melancholy guitar tune in a dirty New York City subway tunnel. A passersby thoughtlessly tosses a coin in his guitar case while Henry blissfully continues to play, seemingly transported into a less cruel world.

It’s a wonderful, simple scene that sets up the false premise of the film – a talented artist’s attempts to make a career for himself – and it seemingly foreshadows themes of art and survival.

Henry is then hit by a car and left in a coma, revealing that his role is actually to introduce his angsty sister, Franny (Anne Hathaway). “Song One” is about Franny’s attempts to deal with the potential loss of her brother by delving into his obsession with music. She meets James Forester (Johnny Flynn), a handsome indie musician whom Henry idolized.

Unsurprisingly, the two have a formulaic romance that is both dull and hollow. Worse is their attempt at quirky dialogue, which fails to add any color or depth to a film sorely in need of both.

“Song One,” the debut feature of writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland, fares much better visually. The often vibrant portrayals of a nighttime New York City are its saving grace: There is a particularly beautiful scene in which Franny and James sing to each other on a bench while the blurred lights of the city glow in the background.

And admittedly, the music is pretty great. Flynn displays a vocal ability that makes for a heartfelt, enjoyable soundtrack, and had the film spent more time developing characters, it would be comparable to the light, funny indie musical, “Begin Again.”

But “Song One” is too busy with Hathaway’s faux-mournful looks at Rosenfield’s comatose body and vaguely emotional moments with her mother, Karen (Mary Steenburgen).

The movie’s pretentious take on grief and family only makes for some miserable viewing. Had the film actually explored those issues, its morbid tone might be justified. Instead, Henry’s coma simply is a plot device that ignites Franny and James’ romance and causes the audience to feel not only empty and bored, but oddly manipulated.

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