The feature writing-directing debut of Kate Barker-Froyland, "Song One" is comfortable and understated, if perhaps a little on the slight side. Anne Hathaway (2014's "Interstellar
"), who also produces, stars as Franny Ellis, an anthropology student working on her PhD thesis in Morocco when she receives word that her younger brother, Henry (Ben Rosenfield), is in a coma after getting struck by a car. Returning home to Brooklyn to be by his side, she cannot help but feel guilty over the splintered way she left their relationship six months earlier. Having never fully supported Henry's musical aspirations, she begins to explore the area's indie music scene that he loved so much. In doing so, she meets her brother's favorite artist, folk-rock singer James Forester (Johnny Flynn), just as he is in the final days of his latest tour. What begins as an attempt to learn more about Henry while she awaits his fate turns into something unexpected as Franny and James draw closer together.
As befits a movie titled "Song One," music is on steady display throughout Kate Barker-Froyland's low-key romantic drama. The soulful soundtrack, which includes seven original tunes by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice, gives the film its pulse even as many of the story points threaten to become overly familiar. Playing James as the antithesis of a smooth, over-the-top, self-possessed rock star, Johnny Flynn instead approaches the character as a quiet, introspective, somewhat fidgety sort, a down-to-earth guy whose moderate fame is the byproduct rather than the goal of his career passion. His performances of songs "Big Black Cadillac," "Iris, Instilled" and "In April" are especially stirring. As Franny, Anne Hathaway is an expressive protagonist worth following, her wistful doe eyes giving way to a cathartic release as she makes amends in her own way to her injured brother. And, as Franny's mother, Karen, Mary Steenburgen (2011's "The Help
") gives an assertive, unapologetic verve to a woman trying to keep it together while facing the possibility of losing her only son.
"Song One" doesn't lead to any huge revelations or unforeseen narrative destinations. At 86 minutes, it also doesn't overstay its welcome or wander off on unnecessary tangents. It is just a simple story told fairly well, nothing more and nothing less. Hathaway and Flynn have an easygoing chemistry with each other, although it is tough to say by the end whether or not their handful of days together will lead to something long-term or remain a sweet, fleeting part of their pasts. Maybe that is as it should be. "Song One" is an enjoyable watch, but an even better listen, its songs bringing a thoughtful melodic glow to modestly endearing material.