Title: Song One
Director: Kate Barker-Froyland
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen, Ben Rosenfield
Sometimes, a character can have more of an effect on a film if they don’t actually appear in it. Their spirit and energy and the memories that others have of them help to guide their actions and their futures, even and especially with them not being present or alive. In Song One, the new film from director Kate Barker-Froyland, Henry (Ben Rosenfield) comes out of the subway after playing and is promptly hit by a car. He ends up in the hospital in a coma, and his sister Franny (Anne Hathaway) rushes home to be there to help her mom (Mary Steenburgen) pick up the pieces and move forward.
With Henry unconscious, Franny becomes the film’s main character. She is first seen in Morocco taking photographs of nomadic tribes, and reveals later that she is earning a PhD in anthropology. When she arrives back home, her mother’s guilt trip makes it clear that she has not done a good job of keeping in touch. Devastated by her brother’s predicament, she looks through his things and discovers a ticket to a concert. She goes in his place and brings her a CD of her brother’s music to the man who was his favorite artist: James Forrester (Johnny Flynn).
After meeting, Franny and James become intricately connected. James’ surprise visit to Henry’s hospital room demonstrates that he cares and isn’t obsessed by the fame that surrounds him. He is likely attracted to Franny because she doesn’t treat him like a rock star and speaks to him like an average person. Their romance begins based on the passion James shows for an anonymous fan and continues because of James’ role as an emblem of Henry and his love for music.
Hathaway, sporting short hair and a relatively antisocial attitude, brings humanity and reality to Franny, making her a believable person living in her own world, populated by nomadic tribes and other intellectually creative thoughts. Johnny is an unwilling celebrity, content to play good music and relatively reluctant to accept the fame and popularity that comes along with it. Flynn is a real find, demonstrating an extraordinary talent for music and also demonstrating exactly the right level of enthusiasm and energy to make his character a strong part of this film. Steenburgen has fun playing a wacky mother who has no qualms about embarrassing her daughter, especially in front of her new singer boyfriend.
The plot of Song One is specifically structured around Henry being in a coma, but the film is otherwise relatively familiar. That isn’t a problem, however, since the script and the cast keep it entertaining and enliven it throughout its runtime. The music is especially enticing, and James feels like a real person whose music, while less pop-oriented than many stars today, could have a mass appeal. There are a number of intimate musical moments in Song One, all of which contribute to an overall satisfying experience.
This Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Competition entry has held several public screenings in Park City thus far, with more scheduled.
Written by Abe Fried-Tanzer