Coming off Anne Hathaway's unforgettable, heartbreaking cries in Les Miserables, one might expect that seeing her in a film titled Song One would promise a similar emotional tenor. Nothing could be further from reality, other than the many chirpy contrivances in this airy story about a folk musician and an anthropologist who find love in the midst of sudden tragedy.
Henry (Ben Rosenfeld) is one of those passionate sub-indie musicians plying his trade in the New York subway system, playing for pennies so that he can afford to upload his music to MySpace or something. Pursuing his dreams put him at odds with his sister Franny (Hathaway), who is off studying the native tribes of Morocco for her PhD. Their last conversation was heated and hurtful, and they've been estranged ever since. When an accident lands Henry in a coma, all she can recall is how angry they had left things, and decides to do something about. Hoping sensory recall will bring him back, Franny captures all of Henry's favorite sounds and smells, spending every waking moment by his bedside along with their mother (Mary Steenburgen), who resents her daughter's distance. Rifling through things, Franny discovers a concert ticket to see Henry's favorite musician, James Forester (real-life musician Johnny Flynn), and is instantly smitten with both the man and his brand of coffee house folk.
To absolutely nobody's surprise, the two hit it off and soon they are inseparable. Franny brings him to Henry's hospital room to perform for his greatest fan, and she becomes James' top groupie attending all of his concerts. After a hit album five years earlier, James has been touring the clubs of New York, but is now due to return home in a matter of days. Will Henry come out of his coma in time? Will Franny drop her boring career path and embark on a life of musical creativity with James? Will your teeth rot out from this sickeningly sweet extended meet-cute?
Snark aside, there are a few genuine moments between Franny and James as she discovers her own love of music and he is all too happy to share his. Hathaway doesn't get to let the pipes ring out too much, other than a few lines here or there, but Flynn gets multiple opportunities on stage. The film really counts on you digging his sound to help bolster the fairly common love story, but the tracks are rather flavorless and indistinct. Written and directed by first-timer Kate Barker-Froyland, the film has more than its share of tonal misfires. It's always going to be weird when people are chatting away and playing music around a comatose patient, but that awkwardness extends out of the hospital, as well. Hathaway isn't stretching herself too much playing the grieving sister, but Flynn is about as vanilla bland as they come. It's hard to believe this guy has such a commanding presence he's surrounded by a throng of devotees at all times. A film like this should have no problem rounding up an audience looking for an easy, romantic tune to follow, but those hoping for something more will find Song One is a little out of rhythm.