Theatrical Release: May 3, 2013
Director: Daniel Algrant
Review by Richard Rey
This mostly melancholic drama based on the life of folk singer Tim Buckley and his son Jeff Buckley is slow as molasses, but just as sweet. Full of romantic indie bits that draw sincere turns from its lead actors, Greetings from Tim Buckley is a stirring father-son drama that errs in its attempt to use music and fortune cookie wisdom to resolve one of life’s most trying problems.
Completely abandoned by his father Tim (Ben Rosenfield) at birth, Jeff Buckley (Penn Badgley), an undiscovered singer-songwriter, has a deep seeded envy and hatred toward the estranged folk legend that died of a drug overdose at 28.
Invited to perform at a tribute concert dedicated to his father’s illustrious career, Jeff has to confront the man’s looming shadow onstage in the form of past industry colleagues, fans, friends, and music. Shot in a parallel fashion, the film wisely elects to portray moments in the lives of these two young men living in different decades (Tim in 1966 and Jeff in 1991), offering us the harmonies and discords between the two strangers.
Its hauntingly deft mood is balanced by a well-scripted love twine involving Jeff and a backstage technician named Allie (Imogen Poots). The chemistry between the two is beautifully captured by director Daniel Algrant and sparks some much needed laughs.
Greetings from Tim Buckley is more haunting than it is depressing, and more musical than it is miserable; still, this painfully gnawing tale of a troubled young man’s journey to know his lost father is mostly black. While Algrant captures the essence of what it is to be young, carefully shifting between the two timelines without causing much distraction, there is something very cockeyed in the representation of Tim Buckley: he is forever treated as the haunting ghost of fatherly past, but never as the deadbeat dad that he actually is.
Problems surface in the plot as well in the form of music: if the undeniably catchy tunes elevate the movie’s strong beginning, then they also cause it to fall that much further in its second and third acts. The problem and answer to nearly everything seems to be music. At one point Jeff sinks into an even deeper, more outward state of despair in the presence of his affectionate love interest who begins to sing to him a cappella (presumably to cheer him up), resolving the issue and dismissing the conflict at once.
As the movie slugs its way along, it becomes increasingly evident that the melody of this drama will require a very patient, sappy moviegoer. And one who doesn’t mind the music superseding the cinema. A possible solution to the struggle brewing deep beneath the surface is awkwardly touched on in a Chinese fortune cookie, “Everything in life is everywhere else – and you get there in a car.” Ambiguity is both unsettling and unconvincing in a movie whose plot requires that its protagonist know how he feels and why he’s gone to a tribute concert for a man he hardly knew and so deeply disdained. While Badgley’s performance is outstanding – there’s an especially magical improvised scene in a record store where Badgley’s serenades Allie – he sometimes comes across as a bratty wannabe, jealous of his father’s success and wanting nothing more than to be as far away from the concert as possible. Question is, why does he stay?
By the end, we’ve pretty much figured out the filmmakers intentions versus what’s on screen – one is much more convoluted than the other. We evince less of a concrete change in this confused, passionate young man’s relationship with his father and more of one whose musicality will lead him to further venues (something we picked up on roughly fifteen minutes in). It’s not that music can’t change him it’s just that in this film, on the screen, heart in hand, for Jeff it didn’t. And that’s a climax we won’t soon forget.
The emotion and meaning are tangible in this overlong heartfelt drama – trouble is that fortune cookie ambiguity is no real answer to life’s most painful events. So go see it, just be sure to enjoy the cookie and throw the fortune to the wind.