During her week of promotion for Song One, Anne Hathaway stopped by The Daily Show to chat with Jon Stewart. Quickly they were dying in laughter. She zipped out a condensed version of the film’s plot, ending her sentence with, “and then he gets hit by a car and is in a coma.” The two couldn’t keep it together. The film, written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland, isn’t as preposterous as that abbreviated description, which unfortunately but understandably hides a sweet, mild-mannered story of pain and recovery.
Hathaway, still in cropped hair, plays Franny, studying in Morocco as an anthropology Ph.D. candidate. After a brisk walk through town, she gets news about her brother’s (Ben Rosenfield) nearly fatal accident (see above). Not so funny now. She returns home to New York immediately to her grieving hippie mother (a great Mary Steenburgen) and her emotional baggage begins to spill. Her old room is in boxes. Her brother may never wake up. She hasn’t spoken to him in six months. The only things that bring him to life are his recorded music and lyric diary, pages of folk songs and favorite bands.
Smothered by regret and too impatient to wait at his bedside, Franny embarks on a musical treasure hunt, locating her brother’s favorite Brooklyn concert halls—Pete’s Candy Store, for example—and singers, notably James Forrester (Johnny Flynn), a small star who she meets after he performs one night. He’s conveniently in between tour dates and losing his inspiration so he visits the hospital the next day. Of course, you know where this is going. A dinner, then a rooftop jam session, then a trip to a Williamsburg dance club. In their creative lapses, they experience some kind of temporary symbiotic attraction.
James, wearing long blonde hair and a stoic look, shies away from the flocks of girls that blush beside him. He’s believable as a semi-famous artist, not necessarily as a love interest. But Hathaway, who also produced this, convinces you he’s worth something more than just his weathered looks. She ends up provoking a personality from him besides his several guitar serenades that stitch scenes together. The music, from singer Jenny Lewis and her partner Johnathan Rice, isn’t particularly memorable but importantly doesn’t overpower a script built on soft dialogs and tiny moments.
One of those takes place on a Brooklyn rooftop overlooking Manhattan. Unlike turning into some other small, quirky musical-healing films like last year’s Frank or God Help The Girl, Barker-Froyland keeps Song One grounded in a pleasant, recognizable reality. Nobody casually breaks into verse or evokes lyrical melodrama. In the night air, above the traffic noise and river tide, the two celebrate and lament the fleeting serenity music provides, those three to five minutes that you want to make last forever. “You should try playing longer songs,” Franny tells James. He, like the film, is smart enough not to take her advice. Enjoy the moment, then move on.
Loitering With Intent
There are too many movies right now in which Sam Rockwell is the only thing worth watching in them. It’s disappointing. These aren’t big studios pushing him to the margins for younger, marketable stars. These are small independent films with grassroots budgets. It’s as though they expect him to carry a film but haven’t given him anything to hold. How can this be? The question is reinforced in Loitering With Intent, a small, scattered movie with little to say and a lot more that could have been.
Rockwell plays a military veteran with PTSD but doesn’t show up until halfway through the film. That leaves Ivan Martin and Michael Godere, as Raphael and Dominic, respectively, to anchor the film as a pair of struggling writers and actors staying afloat as bartenders in New York City. Dominic can’t get work because he’s in an “age void” and Raphael has little ambition. The duo is also the writing pair behind this film, so you sense their characters’ anxieties and regrets have some personal history. Opportunity strikes when a friend and producer (Natasha Lyonne) says her company can finance a small film. The two push her an idea of a noir screenplay and get two weeks to send her back a draft. As you might assume, a country house getaway from the frenetic city is the mirage to finally nabbing their success.
The urgency in this quest to whip up a screenplay rarely gains momentum. Part of that is the pacing and part of that is whom they encounter in their hope for solitude. The house belongs to Gigi (Marisa Tomei), Dominic’s sister, and her beautiful assistant Ava (Isabelle McNally) offers the first seductive distraction. Gigi shows up drunk that night and Raphael conjures old feelings for her. A few days later, Wayne (Rockwell), Gigi’s estranged boyfriend, and his surfer brother (Brian Geraghty) stop by and turn away any potential for productivity. Dominic is the only person stressed about this, which means he sits in his room, frantically types and angrily stares at his screen above others’ laughter.
From there the film splinters and you’d rather see Loitering With Intent stay with Rockwell and Tomei, watch them mend their relationship. But director Adam Rapp doesn’t know where this film’s strength is even when he’s captured it. Like a scene where you witness the mental trauma Wayne still has inside him. Rockwell engages in lucid conversation with Geraghty and then he pauses. “Come here,” he says, motioning his brother towards him just a few feet away. Suddenly the moment has stakes. You’re not sure if something violent is lurking or it’s just an unusual facade to make a joke. It’s the moment you realize that for a film wanting to be taken seriously, it’s missing this kind of seriousness.