Dismissing Song One as a weak Williamsburg cover of Once really ought to feel more reductive than it does. Both are short, guileless and narratively threadbare indies about two wounded people brought together by the healing power of music. But where John Carney’s cult classic was honest in its efforts to eke out some hope from a cold Irish winter, Kate Barker-Froyland’s debut feels emotionally Auto-Tuned, the film’s depiction of Brooklyn like that of a naïve teenager heading to the outer boroughs for her first show at Glasslands (R.I.P.). Amounting to little more than a chain of naked emotions strung together by a simple melody, Song One joins Carney’s own Begin Again in reminding us why his breakthrough hit wasn’t called Twice.
Anne Hathaway plays Franny, a pixie-haired Ph.D. student who’s summoned back to Manhattan from the Middle East when her estranged kid brother, last seen busking to an audience of none near the L Train, gets steamrolled into a coma by a passing cab. Ruffling through her sibling’s stuff in a desperate bid to reconnect with him, Franny finds a ticket to an upcoming concert by his favorite musician, Jonathan Forester (Johnny Flynn), for whom she’s about to become a most unlikely muse.
The only surprise to be had in this predictable trifle is that Hathaway, a perpetual theater kid, doesn’t do much singing. That falls to Flynn, a folk demigod whose nascent film career will continue to pick up steam with his appearance in this spring’s Clouds of Sils Maria. It’s too bad that the songs themselves, written by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, are wishy-washy tunes that better indicate Flynn’s talent rather than capture it. Barker-Froyland asks these underwhelming lo-fi jams to do an absurd amount of her story’s heavy lifting, the easy sentiment of Flynn’s voice compensating for the undercooked romance between Franny and Jonathan.
It’s nice to see Hathaway revisit the broken-wing steeliness that galvanized Rachel Getting Married, but Franny feels like a sketch of a character, and the notion that finding Forester brings her closer to her brother is woefully unconvincing. Fading out long before it’s able to cohere into anything memorable, Song One has its heart in the right place (on its sleeve)—it’s just in desperate need of a few strong hooks.
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