Friday, May 3, 2013

Movie Review: Greetings from Tim Buckley

Greetings from Tim Buckley
Directed by:  Daniel Algrant.
Written by: Daniel Algrant and David Brendel and Emma Sheanshang.
Starring: Penn Badgley (Jeff Buckley), Imogen Poots (Allie), Ben Rosenfield (Tim Buckley), Norbert Leo Butz (Hal Wilner), William Sadler (Lee Underwood), Frank Wood (Gary Lucas) Ilana Levine (Paula), Kate Nash (Carol), Jessica Stone (Janine Nichols), Isabelle McNally (Jane Goldstein), Stephen Tyrone Williams (Carter), Frank Bello (Richard Hell), D.K. Bowser (Charles Mingus).

Both Tim Buckley, and his son Jeff, were talented singer-songwriters who died far too soon – Tim at 29 due to drugs, and Jeff at 30 because of a bizarre drowning incident. Jeff never really knew his father – saying he only met him twice – once at his first birthday party, and again at the age of 8 when Tim invited him to spend time with him and his new wife – and then spent most of that time at the studio recording an album, leaving Jeff behind. The film Greetings from Tim Buckley takes place in 1991 – 16 years after Tim’s death, and a couple of years before Jeff released his now iconic album Grace and became an star. It is about Jeff coming to New York to perform at a tribute concert for his father, and the complicated feelings it brings up in him.

Jeff Buckley is played by Penn Badgley, who is the main reason to see the film. With his floppy hair, Badgley looks enough like Buckley to pass, and more importantly in the film’s closing scenes at the concert, Badgley, who did all his own singing in the movie, pretty much nails Jeff’s distinctive voice. Most of the movie takes place in the days leading up to the concert, with Jeff constantly being told what a genius his father was, and the mounting anger, sadness and resentment this brings up in Jeff. He’s mad at his father for never letting him get to know him, mad at him for abandoning him and his mother, and then writing such beautiful songs about love. And he also sees himself in competition with his father – who at his age was already a star, while he is still toiling as a session musician and performing at small clubs. To give Jeff someone to talk to, the movie gives him a love interest in Allie, playing by the wonderfully charming, open faced Imogen Poots, as a kindly intern.

The film is mainly a low key affair. Despite all the angry and resentment Jeff feels towards his father, writer-director Daniel Algrant wisely avoids histrionics – Jeff never howls at the moon with anger, but keeps it fairly close to his chest. His bitterness is palpable, but never goes close to over the top – it feels real and painful. This isn’t to say that movie doesn’t have its BIG moments – the biggest being a flirtation in a record store where Jeff serenades Allie, and gradually gets louder and louder and more into the moment. I liked this low key approach that seems more attuned to both Buckleys. As well, by concentrating on just a few days, the movie foregoes the traps of most biopics that become a greatest hits collection.

The scenes that don’t work as well are flashbacks of Tim on the road in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I have a feeling the movie would have worked better without them – have Tim Buckley’s presence in the movie be through archival clips, and his songs – which is pretty much the only way Jeff knew his father. If done that way, I think the emotional involvement with Jeff would have been even greater.

The showpiece of the film is, of course, the climatic concert – where Jeff walked onto the stage an unknown, and walked off a star. Badgeley, who is great in the entire movie, raises his game to a whole new level in this sequence – deeply feeling the words he is singing to Tim’s songs. This performance by Badgeley will make you forget all the years he spent on Gossip Girl

Greetings from Tim Buckley is not a great movie. It is a little too low key for that, a little too predictable. It seems to want to be something like Once or even at times Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, and doesn’t quite reach that level. And yet, it remains a good film – with a great central performance by Penn Badgeley. A must for the fans of either junior or senior Buckley.

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