I should start with a disclaimer. Or maybe it’s a just a “claimer” as it’s not meant to cover my ass, but purely to reveal my biases. Unlike “Once,” which you might think is a Spanish drama about eleven people, it doesn’t require the intellect of Elon Musk to assume “Song One” is about music. It’s just diametrically different music than I’d normally listen to and enjoy. So you can completely understand where (“bust a nut inside your eye/ to show you where…”) I come from, the title “Song One,” brings to my mind this song, “One”: http://youtu.be/grlOImCXqW0. So, why the hell am I seeing such a thing? Anne Hathaway.
I’ve recently wondered if there were any performers which can guarantee I see a movie of theirs. Brad Pitt used to be one. Kate Winslet’s always been a favorite. Tom Hanks used to hit them out of the park each time he stepped to the plate. But ultimately, there’s no actor whose movie ticket is instantly sold to me by virtue of their presence. Hathaway, however, comes pretty close. Since “Brokeback Mountain,” I’ve only missed four movies in which she’s appeared (anyone who wants contend for this title, let me know when the first time was that you’d even heard of “Don Peyote.” I’m guessing it was when you checked IMDb to compare your list).
Though “Brokeback” seems like it’d spark the soon-to-be-explained lust-filled quest (for reason’s eloquently summarized by Jonah Hill in “Knocked Up”: http://youtu.be/-0MrczERAe4), it was actually “Get Smart” where I became an Anne fan (or “FAnnes” as we as a non-existent group don’t call ourselves). There was a humor and willingness to be playful and sexualized on her part and I was enchanted (“Ella, Ella, Eh, Eh”). My girlfriend didn’t think so (and thus we’re no longer together), but at least she supported the idea by not deleting any of Hathaway’s “Ellen” appearances until after I was able to view them. My crush was complete.
When I noticed Hathaway was doing a Q&A after a showing of “Song One” at a local theater, it was a no brainer (“I mean a Cobainer”) that I buy a ticket for myself. All the typical Ed Grimley/”King of Comedy” ideas of meeting and becoming close ran through my head as I hyped the opportunity with my friends, indulging in my fantasy. The only true deterrent was that I’d have to sit through “Sone One” first. At least it was only 86 minutes.
My fears about the film seemed to be immediately founded when seeing the trailers they paired with it. Schmaltz is not a term I’ve used very often in my life. I don’t mind having a tear jerked from time to time, among other things (Jamaican chicken, that is), but never do I like to cry from wincing embarrassment due to a two-minute promotion. I don’t know who the preview for “Old Fashioned” is for, but I’d rather be shanked with a shiv in both eyes than expose them to the movie’s full runtime.
“Song One,” didn’t start any easier, but at least I knew what I was getting into. Hathaway plays Franny, a young woman studying to get her PhD in cultural anthropology. She’s summoned home by her mother (Mary Steenburgen), after Franny’s younger brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield) is hit by a car, tuning out the outside world with his headphones. I’ll make the assumption that Beats by Dre won’t by using this tactic for their next ad campaign, although it’d stand a better chance of enticing me than throwing them on Richard Sherman’s head.
Franny visits a comatose Henry in the hospital and since she can’t receive any communication from him in his fugue state, she attempts to reconcile with him through his journal of passions. Their previous communication was a fight over Henry deciding to drop out of college to pursue his dream of making music, which is ultimately what caused his current condition. Franny finds Henry’s bedroom back at their mother’s house adorned with paraphernalia pertaining to folk singer James Forester (Johnny Flynn). She finds a CD with a song Henry intended to send to Forester and a ticket to Forester’s show and she trudges forth in attempt to understand her brother’s obsession.
It’s about here where I started feeling the movie was attempting to speak to me. Franny goes to see a performer. (Just like me and Anne!) After Forester’s performance, Franny waits for the selfie-taking crowd to die down. (There are a lot more people to wait out at this screening, but I can do it.) She tells him that her brother is in a hospital after having a brain hemorrhage. (It’s like she’s giving me a script for how I should approach her.) Forester ends up showing up to Henry’s hospital room to play some music and Franny essentially asks him out. (Now I either need to find an already-injured fake sibling or hurt one of my own.) They develop a bond. They have sex. Franny’s mom invites him to dinner. She embarrassedly sings a song from her youth. It’s the day-dreamer’s handbook come to life. The only thing I need now is for life to imitate art.
Aside from the perceived parallels to my personal pursuit, the film was able to surprise me with how much I liked the music. The vast majority of the songs used in the film were written by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice (it’s no use for me to pretend I know who they are; you can see through me at this point) and performed by Flynn. As Hathaway noted in her Q&A afterward, as a producer, she didn’t want to find an actor who could play music a bit, but rather a musician who could act. While it’s apparent that acting is Flynn’s second hobby, his mastery of musical instruments was mesmerizing. Whatever good things he gets in his life is well-earned. When Forester whips out his violin during his first performance, even I melted a bit (I’m pretty sure someone spilled water on me).
The movie mainly functions as a celebration of music to the point which anything involving Franny and Henry’s relationship (not that there could be much of one while he’s in a coma) is pushed aside. There’s a beautifully cathartic moment when Franny and Forester dance to Dan Deacon’s “Crystal Cat” under a strobe light. For a second, I thought Gaspar Noe had taken his place behind the camera. Instead, that job belonged to writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland, who Hathaway had previous interacted with on the set of “The Devil Wears Prada” and whose script was put into Hathaway’s hands by her “Rachel Getting Married” director, Jonathan Demme. Froyland’s movie is perfectly amiable and is kind of like “Crazy Heart” for “The Fault in Our Stars” crowd. Though I’m a member of neither film’s fan club, sometimes all it takes is the right star.
About that Q&A. Hathaway spoke for about 40 minutes. Her husband, Adam Shulman, a producer on the film alongside Hathaway, was mentioned in the first two. And multiple times afterward. My saliva bubble was burst. As one of her last “A”s to a “Q,” Hathaway mentioned the difference between promoting a movie she acted in versus one she produced is she’s a lot less shy about trying to get the word out for the latter. Damn. She got me. Hopefully the next time she does one of these, I’ll have kin in the hospital.