Just two years ago, Anne Hathaway awed the world with her Oscar-winning performance in the musical epic Les Miserables. Now she’s coming out with a new drama that has her short-haired and singing. Yet no one seems to be paying much attention. Why’s that? Probably because Hathaway singing is just about the only thing Song One has going for it.
Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Kate Barker-Froyland, Song One starts by centering on a gawky young Brooklyn busker (Ben Rosenfield). Then he’s promptly hit by a cab, and we switch focus to his estranged sister Franny (Hathaway) who abandons anthropology adventures abroad to fly to his comatose side and wallow in guilt. But not for too long. Soon she’s snooping through his journal and creeping on his musical idol James Forester (played by unknown Johnny Flynn). Because nothing gets a guy’s attention quite like ‘My brother’s your biggest fan…and he’s in a coma.’
Instead of going the way of crazy crush The Boy Next Door, One Song had Franny and James fall in predictable love. However, their connection is more fueled by Franny’s desire to understand music—and by extension her brother—than any chemistry between she and James. For his part, Flynn is a charming singer, but barely there as a leading man. And Franny relies too heavily on Hathaway’s star power, being too haphazardly developed on paper to get invested in. Together, they sing sweet but empty duets.
Song One gets points for being earnest in its ambitions to explore love and regret. But jump cuts of Hathaway’s ugly-faced crying and insert shots of a half-empty journal isn’t enough to ground Franny’s journey. Her using the journal as a map to get to know the brother she feels guilty for abandoning is an intriguing jumping off point. Then the film takes too long to set up its backstory, which gives the main premise a tiresome navel-gazing quality. Instead, Franny seems a self-centered young woman who can’t stand to face her brother’s coma, and so takes the smallest excuse to traipse about Manhattan. And wouldn’t you know it fall for a budding folk rock star! Even then, she’s unlikeable, gently mocking his music and his fans to his face. It’s not cute.
I’d like to like this movie. I admire Hathaway’s nerdy earnestness in all she does. I’m a sucker for a guy and an acoustic guitar. And the movie’s simple songs are a little bit of lovely, reminding me of the smell of grass, and the cool breeze on a warm summer day that feels far too distant in this bitch of a winter. Yet none of them stuck with me past the credits. And plot-wise, I can’t get over how awkward it is for Franny to reach out to James. It’s both desperate and entitled. When James sings to the comatose busker brother, it’s gross as he lays there limp and his sulky sister gets gooey.
Painted in washes of dull grey, Song One is visually dingy. Its story feels small and uninspired with characters that feel one note at best, and threadbare at worst. But despite its lackluster love interest, its problematic protagonist, and its slipshod script, this movie’s greatest sin is just that it’s so damn forgettable.