When Anne Hathaway won a SAG Award last year for her role as Fantine in Les Miserables, she remarked in her acceptance speech that she was “thrilled to have dental.” Hathaway then proceeded to win an Oscar for her performance and she may have won that award because under Tom Hooper’s orthodontic direction of Les Miserables, she had the best set of choppers in the film. And now with Song One, Hathaway and her flashing diamond teeth are on hand again, her bright bridge work coming mightily to the aid of this Harlequin hipster romance.
Hathaway is Jenny, an anthropology Ph.D. who is called away from studying local tribal weddings in Morocco to return to her New York home by her mom (Mary Steenburgen). It seems that her brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield) is lying comatose in a hospital ward (single room furnished). Henry is a struggling musician, returning from a gig in a Grand Central Station walkway, when, due to the Bose headphones clamped to his head, he is run down when he steps out in front of a cab. Jenny is in grief since the last time she spoke to her brother she lambasted him for not going to college. She tries to atone for this by turning Henry into an anthropological study. Thanks to her discovery of Henry’s notebook, she investigates his interests (keyboards and Gramophones) and discovers his native haunts – alt rock clubs in Williamsburg and downtown Manhattan. It is at the Bowery Ballroom that she sees Henry’s musical idol, James Forrester (Johnny Flynn). After the concert, she gives James a recording of Henry. Back at the hospital, Franny is forcing open Henry’s eyes when James appears at the door. Meeting cute over her brother’s comatose body, Franny and James start dating. James introduces Franny to the hipster rock scene and Franny helps James out of writer’s block. And all is well with the world.
Director/screenwriter Kate Barker-Froyland utilizes shaky-cam to give this fairy tale a gritty urban look. But neither the camera style, nor the pseudo-hip tunes by Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice (lyrics along the lines of “The big black Cadillac took you” and “Your little yellow dress made me go ballistic”) disguise the barrenness of the presentation. Barker-Froyland’s Dad is the Vice President of Sony Classics, and I don’t want to sound as if we should all head to the barricades, but Song One looks like a film made by a rich man’s daughter (Song One only needs a change in one letter to become Sony One). The characters have nothing at stake (Henry’s coma has no more emotional heft than as a plot device) and money and bills do not seem to be an issue (Bose headphones ain’t cheap). Mom is working lackadaisically on a book in a big house and Franny can abandon her career at will to sit at Henry’s bedside for the duration. The characters also live in a rather austere, in not monk-like, world. Mom has no friends and neither does Franny. Thank God pop star James comes along to break up the drudgery.
One scene and one performance saves Song One from total mediocrity. The performer is Mary Steenbergen, who shines with warmth and motherly sorrow. There is one wonderful scene in Mom’s living room. Mom is getting drunk on wine and James and Franny sit on the floor as Mom recalls her youth in the 1970s. She encourages Franny to sing along to an album Franny loved as an eight year old. Mom puts on the soft-folk group America’s debut album and Franny sings along to “I Need You.” Hathaway and Steenbergen bond. If only the rest of the film could have strayed off script and explored connections and emotions as Barker-Froyland succeeds in doing here.
Instead, most of the film consists of Hathaway’s pouts and smiles. If anything, the message one comes away from One Song with is a stern warning not to listen to Bose headphones while walking down a busy New York City street. Maybe Beats instead?