Kate Barker-Froyland's Song One stars Anne Hathaway as Franny, a young PhD student in archaeology stationed on a dig in the Middle East. At the outset of the story, she is estranged from her brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield), a budding alternative singer-songwriter with whom she had a nasty fight some years earlier; he dropped out of college to pursue music, she advised him that he was wasting his life and energy. Then Henry experiences a tragic accident - while crossing the street, he's struck by an oncoming taxicab and knocked into a coma; on a note of sad irony, he cannot hear the oncoming car, as he's wearing headphones. Franny receives a call from her mother (Mary Steenburgen) informing her of the situation, and flies to New York, to be there for her mom and brother. While questions linger in the air about the probability of Henry's recovery, Franny visits her brother's room and, in combing through his things, gets to know him for the first time. Later, she crosses paths with an established alternative musician named James Forester (Johnny Flynn) who Henry idolized. Franny and James hit it off, and begin to fall in love. Hathaway and Steenburgen, as always, deliver fine, well-honed performances and succeed at giving the material more weight than it would otherwise have. The picture, however, falls short of its potential. The set-up of Franny flying to New York, getting to know Henry for the first time (vicariously, through the music and notebooks he left behind) and effectively growing to care for her brother is sweet, touching and loaded with dramatic promise. The addition of Forester and the accompanying romance, however, feel irritating and cliched. Why is it necessary for Barker-Froyland to lapse into this contrivance of including Forester as a character and having Franny fall in love with him? To cop Roger Ebert's criticism of another film: in the real world, Franny would meet either no one, or creeps. Forester is too spotless and idealized; he seems to have wandered in from another planet. Their affair is too cloying, too precious, and our hearts may sink as we see James being introduced into the equation - we can feel the wheels of the standard romantic formula clicking into place. The film hits a low point when it includes a living room performance by Franny of America's song "I Need You" that - mercifully - sidesteps an obnoxious, Stepmom-like family singalong - one of the movie's few surprises. The picture also deserves some credit for resisting the temptation to descend into movie-of-the-week tragedy. This is the type of drama for which independent festivals were created. It's a middle-of-the-road, female-oriented indie saga with a familiar story angle. Not by any means terrible but far from great, it's professionally done (Jonathan Demme was one of the producers), but so bland and generic that it is frankly difficult to articulate a reason why this picture needed to be made. Fans of Hathaway, Steenburgen and/or Flynn may find it pleasant, but there are no surprises here, and those seeking any sort of innovation or novelty in story or approach will find it sadly lacking.
All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern