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Song One

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 02/06/15 05:33:03

"Anne Hathaway in a musical movie where she doesn't sing much."
3 stars (Average)

There are times when "Song One" starts to come across as a simple enough romance that its peculiar start fades into the background, and it's odd for that to feel like a good thing. The way the two parties meet doesn't work, and it's the whole foundation of the movie, but there are enough nice moments afterward that work regardless.

After all, it starts with a 19-year-old musician (Ben Rosenfield), headphones blocking everything out, getting struck by a car. His sister Franny (Anne Hathaway), a graduate student doing research in Morocco, is called home by their mother (Mary Steenburgen), and while she does what she can to help draw him out of his coma, she decides to use the James Forester concert ticket she finds in his notebook. She talks to the musician (Johnny Flynn) afterward, telling him her comatose brother Henry is his biggest fan; he comes by the hospital. And so on.

That whole situation is weird, right? It's weird from Henry apparently only having interest in this one other musician, to Franny hanging around after the show to drop all this on him, to the next day when she asks James to meet her at a show after he shows up to see them at the hospital. Certainly, there are details that make it less off-putting than that sounds, but we don't know Franny well enough when she hits this folk musician with her brother's coma or when she figures a hospital visit is the right time to make a date for it to seem like something natural rather than writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland trying to force her movie's concept. Of course, it's supposed to be weird, but we don't see Franny wrestling with the awkwardness of it much.

On the other hand, the two halves of the movie that you get if you sort of ignore how things started are both done rather well. Franny handles Henry's coma like the anthropologist she is, following his diary to discover the things he loves and places he lives, recording them and bringing the sounds to him (or putting pancakes from his favorite diner under his nose), and it's a sweetly melancholy little story. The little details are nicely observed, even if they might bring some to snort at Brooklyn hipster quirk, and Barker-Froyland seldom feels the need to spell things out too obviously.

The other part of the movie is a love story that is fairly sweet as well, a natural but not forced pairing of two smart, capable people who don't know what to do in their current situations and need someone to get them through. As decent as Johnny Flynn is as James, though, it's pretty clear watching any scene of him and Anne Hathaway which one is the movie star and which one is the musician who occasionally acts. Hathaway is a real pleasure to watch, though, both when showing the nervous emotional conflict in Franny's head as she tries to type on her laptop while sitting next to her brother's hospital bed or letting everything out. She also gets to play off Mary Steenburgen as the siblings' mother; that pairing does a fine job of mirroring each other while also delivering some very believable friction.

The film doesn't build to a hugely dramatic climax, which initially seems kind of unsatisfying, even if it doesn't have a poor ending. Still, there's enough nuggets of good material to it- including a soundtrack featuring songs by Jenny Lewis & Johnathan Rice - to make it a nice movie for a quiet evening.

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