In her first major motion picture in limited release, Kate Barker-Froyland has penned and directed a lovely and muted gem about a young woman slightly estranged from her family, who returns home after her brother is struck by a car and left comatose. It’s another one of those music-themed films with an enchanting soundtrack that will attract indie music enthusiasts.
The film, which was co-produced by Anne Hathaway and Jonathan Demme (along with a host of other producers), stars Hathaway as Franny Ellis. Franny is a young woman traveling in Morocco as she works on her anthropological doctoral thesis.
“Song One” opens with a vibrant young Henry Ellis in New York City. Henry is a musician. His favorite musician is James Forester. We find Henry walking about the streets of New York City engrossed in his James Forester tune via his headphones. With his senses limited… he is struck by a car.
From here, Franny gets the call from her mother (Mary Steenburgen) that her brother has been badly hurt. She asks Franny to come back to New York. Franny returns and finds her brother Henry in coma. Her grief is compounded by the fact that she and her brother have not spoken in six months due to her disapproval of his quitting college to pursue a music career.
As Franny sits by Henry’s bedside, she spends her off-time discovering more about her brother. She finds his journal and discovers his inner-most thoughts and desires. She visits his apartment. She discovers his favorite hang-outs and his favorite music.
When Franny discovers his favorite diner, she purchases their pancakes, takes them to the hospital and holds the food under his nose. She does the same with M&M’s, and records the sounds of his favorite places. She discovers that his favorite artist is a musician named James Forester (Johnny Flynn) and she goes out of her way to attend his concert to meet him in person.
As it turns out, Forester is an indie musician with a loyal fan base. Franny attends his concert and introduces herself to Forester. She gives him photograph of him and Henry, and explains that Henry is now hospitalized in a coma. She also provides him with a CD of Henry’s music.
Surprisingly, Forester is pleasantly humble and hospitable. The next day he shows up unexpectedly at the hospital to play for Henry, and from here Franny and James slowly discover a kinship beyond their connection to Henry.
“Song One” does not take the audience on any profound journey that will cause them to go home and phone their parents. What it does do is invite the viewer to relax and enjoy the simplistic cinematic ride. Barker-Froyland reminds you that nothing trumps family, and she does so without melodramatic, emotional breakdowns or low-brow sensationalism.
Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen is an absolute pleasure to watch as the Ellis matriarch. This veteran actress jived well alongside the Oscar winning Hathaway in their respective muted performances as a mother and daughter holding on to the hope of their son and brother’s return to life.
Still rather young in her blossoming career, Anne Hathaway never fails to deliver a convincing performance, and her role as Franny is no exception. She can only get better with time as she coasts her way into future roles.
Relative newcomer Johnny Flynn hails from a musical background, and based on this performance, we are bound to see more of him. While Barker-Froyland’s script was muted and serene, that does not mean that any actor can easily stand in front of the camera and master the art of less-being-more. Barker-Froyland seems to have successfully captured this from all of the “Song One” actors, including the greener Flynn.
“Song One”’s genteel, lovely and folksy soundtrack is courtesy of Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice. I’m certain that fans of this particular sound will find it enchanting. It’s yet another one of those trendy music themed films whose songs linger on in the mind of the viewer even after they have left the theater. I’m certain that this is what “Song One” aims for. You will want to take note of the whimsical “I’m Afraid Of Heights”, the Empire State Building song.
“Song One” is not going down in the annals of Hollywood’s greatest musical films, but it doesn’t need to. It simply serves to tell a bittersweet story of family and romance, with the beautiful concrete jungle of Manhattan as a backdrop. It will neither make nor break the career of Jonathan Demme, but will certainly advance Barker-Froyland’s future in the film industry.
Rated PG-13 and running for a comfortable 86 minutes, “Song One” opened this weekend in limited release. See it in selected theaters.