Film review: New York's indie music gets play in Song One

Franny (Anne Hathaway) meets singer-songwriter James (Johnny Flynn) after her musician brother is knocked down by a car. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Franny (Anne Hathaway) meets singer-songwriter James (Johnny Flynn) after her musician brother is knocked down by a car. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

The indie music scene in New York City is the backdrop for Song One

Review/SONG ONE (NC16)/88 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***1/2

The story: Feeling helpless and guilt-stricken after her musician brother is knocked down by a car and lies in a coma, Franny (Anne Hathaway) decides to retrace his steps. She goes to his favourite haunts and listens to his favourite acts. In the course of doing so, she meets singer-songwriter James Forester (Johnny Flynn), who offers her music and emotional comfort.

There has been a run of pretty spot-on movies about music including Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) and Begin Again (2013). Add to that list Song One. If there is one thing that these films share, it is that they are serious about music.

Grammy-winning roots rocker T Bone Burnett produced the 1960s folk soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis, while Gregg Alexander, best known as the frontman of the alt-rock band New Radicals, was responsible for the music on Begin Again.

The contemporary indie music scene in New York City is the backdrop for Song One and its soundtrack is courtesy of Jenny & Johnny - the indie rock duo comprising Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice.

In other words, the movie comes furnished with impeccable indie pedigree.

It is clear that writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland, who makes her feature debut here, has great affection for the Big Apple scene.

She works in a weird and wonderful tour of what the city has to offer, from a bearded guy singing in Portuguese in a cafe to an electro-music rave.

Much of the music is of the guitardriven, troubadour variety and Flynn is perfectly cast as the sensitive singer-songwriter, given that James draws admirers as much for his shaggy locks and scruffy looks as for his songs. It probably helps that in real life, Flynn fronts a folk rock band, Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit.

While Hathaway had previously sung onscreen in the musical Les Miserables (2012), her turn as Franny is not a singing one.

Her focus is on anchoring the film with the drama of her romance with James,which blossoms under emotionally trying circumstances - how Franny feels about James is tangled up with her worries over her brother.

To Barker-Froyland's credit, the relationship feels unforced as it unfolds in a believable manner.

She finds the sweet little moments that nudge them together such as how James makes Franny smile when he turns up at the hospital in an ill-fitting tuxedo.

It might well make you smile too.

bchan@sph.com.sg