Kind of like a fictionalized documentary on one woman’s discovery of Appalachian folk music in 1907, “Songcatcher” begins with a worthwhile hook and reeling line, but lets it go far too loose as it progresses.Janet McTeer grossly overacts in the role of Doctor Lily Penleric (upon discovering new songs, she must scientifically pen the lyrics — how not clever) who goes to stay with her lesbian school-teaching sister (“You’re teachers — what kind of example are you setting?”), played by Jane Adams. And after hearing some “love songs” and ditties believed to come from Europe, she makes it her quest to record them all for her book. In the style of the song(s) sung by the Soggy Bottom Boys in “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” these here also tend to have the same type of appeal. But the discovery and pursuit to record (by hand, by cylinder) gives way to the far more generic and melodramatic love story of Lily and one of the local bucolic bumpkins, which is like a scratch in a record. The bits of humor tossed in here and there (“We could use another healer around here”/ “I’m not that kind of doctor. I’m a doctor of musicology”) are scattered and weak attempts to divert the mind from the banality of the rest. It’s nice to see Jane Adams again so soon after “The Anniversary Party,” but she’s hardly given the chance to do much. The top-chart hit of “Songcatcher” is the newcomer Emmy Rossum, not for her acting (so-so), but for her wildly intense voice. If that really is her (which I suspect), that is quite a powerful talent.
With Pat Carroll, Aidan Quinn, Greg Russell Cook and a cameo by Taj Mahal. Written and directed by Maggie Greenwald.