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Song One (zero stars)

by Andres Solar

Is it worth $10? No

The opening scene of writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland's debut feature "Song One" has a young man busking at a New York City subway station. You notice that the singer/guitarist employs an old, musician's stage trick: Sing or play with your eyes closed and it gives the impression of heartfelt passion. In making this film, Barker-Froyland also seems to have closed her eyes and tried hard to make you think there's substance and intrigue to be had.

An anthropologist named Franny (Anne Hathaway, in full-on slumming mode) learns her younger brother, an avid musician and admirer of singer/songwriter James Forester (Johnny Flynn, "Something in the Air" [2012]), suffered an accident which rendered him comatose. As she seeks ways to revive the hospitalized young man, she "stumbles" upon Forester himself, and an "unlikely alliance" begins.

Sophomoric and facile, "Song One" is a classic example of the button-pushing school of filmmaking. Rather than developing characters themselves, directors like Barker-Froyland and Jean-Marc Vallée ("Wild" [2014]) ask you to strike an unspoken deal with them: They'll supply the cliché situations and language, and YOU'LL develop the characters in your own mind, in line with their cues. One example: A doctor explains to Franny her brother's condition via x-rays and medical language. She explodes with "Just TELL me if he can SURVIVE this!!" The director wants you to make a mental note: "The doctor's a prick and Franny is beside herself with worry." If you instead thought "That was bitchy of her. He's only doing his job," you're disqualified. You're not playing the director's game correctly. Never mind that you feel like it's laziness on Barker-Froyland’s part in the first place.

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Script-wise, this is film-school freshman fare. In some ways similar in plot to William H. Macy's (much better) "Rudderless" (2014), "Song One" is numbingly safe and consistently pat. Is even a mediocre surprise too much to ask for? With Barker-Froyland insisting on dialogue word-for-word from the script, it's about as compellingas a wet napkin.

But how can one NOT like Anne Hathaway? So talented, possessing that rare fragile charm. Chalk it up to a bad choice on her part (and likely that of her agent). All admiration for Hathaway aside, no movie ought to be made for the sole purpose of dirtying the hands of a Hollywood star with a small budget indie.

This one is a bummer story, lackadaisically told. Melodramatic and predictable, it's nearly devoid of tension. The first 15 minutes are completely humorless, and later only a few attempts are offered. With every single character taking himself/herself so damn seriously, a decision to spend an hour and a half with "Song One" would be the wrong one.

Andres Solar reviews new fare with an emphasis on art house and indie for HOH. He would love to see Burt Reynolds in another Paul Thomas Anderson movie but understands that it probably “Ain’t gonna happen.”

Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.

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