Review: The neo-folk-tinged ‘Song One’ is tiresome in its preciousness

‘Song One’
Anne Hathaway stars as Franny in “Song One.”
(The Film Arcade/TNS)

As a chance to see performances by neo-folk acts, the music-centric “Song One” is a serviceable sampler. But anyone with the slightest allergy to emo-tinged millennial attitudinizing should steer clear. The movie is an album-sleeve-thin romance steeped in a self-congratulatory Williamsburg, Brooklyn, vibe.

First-time writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland uses a medical emergency as a transparent and increasingly creepy pretext for bringing together two aching souls. Played by musician-actor Johnny Flynn and Anne Hathaway (the latter of whom is one of the film’s producers, along with Jonathan Demme), they’re a singer-songwriter and an anthropology grad student — people who lead nominally interesting lives but remain adamantly uninteresting.

Franny Ellis drops her thesis research in Morocco to return to New York, where her busker brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield), has been seriously injured in an accident. In a touching attempt to repair their frayed bond and find a way to communicate with the comatose Henry, Franny visits his haunts and explores his musical tastes, using his journal as a guide. She reaches out to his idol, James Forester (Flynn), and the soft-spoken Brit troubadour becomes a regular in Henry’s hospital room, sitting vigil with Franny and her mother (Mary Steenburgen), and strumming a song or two. (Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice wrote the tunes.)

The film conveys a fondness for analog-age artifacts like gramophones and handwritten diaries, but Barker-Froyland mistakes such affection for evidence of character. What begins as a tentative tenderness between Franny and the almost painfully shy James becomes tiresome in its preciousness. Steenburgen lends a little grit, even as she’s called upon to deliver stock maternal kvetches and, worse, invoke “Paris in the ‘70s” as if referring to a key epoch in that city’s history.


“Song One.”

MPAA rating: PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, brief language.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena; ArcLight Sherman Oaks. Also on VOD.


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