“Song One,” the first feature film from writer-director Kate Barker-Froyland, follows Franny (Anne Hathaway), an anthropologist who returns home to Brooklyn after her younger brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield) is hit by a car and falls into a coma. Franny makes a special connection with Henry’s favorite musician James Forester (Johnny Flynn), who’s facing some serious writers’s block. It’s a sweet film filled with excellent, understated performances, especially by Mary Steenburgen as Franny and Henry’s mother, who struggles to connect with an emotionally distant daughter while fearing for her son’s life.
What people will be talking, and singing, about, however, is the soundtrack. The ‘James Forester’ songs, by Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, are absolutely wonderful, and the way music and sound itself (Franny records the noise of the neighborhood to play for her brother) are used as storytelling devices is wonderfully original.
At last nights premiere, at the Sunshine theater in New York, Indiewire chatted with the film’s stars and director about music and more.
Sound, songs and verbal communication are in the very DNA of the story and played a large role in “Song One’s” creation. Barker-Froyland told Indiewire that she used certain songs and artists to get into the character of James’ head, playing music while she wrote his scenes. “One song that ended up in the movie is Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me‘ and I loved that song. I thought it would be James’ favorite song… I narrowed it down for his character, and I was listening to that song constantly as I was writing that scene, but I also listened to Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, mostly for James’ songs, Michael Kiwanuka, Johnny Flynn’s Songs, Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, listened to a lot of theirs, they wrote the music for the movie.”
Flynn is in fact a real-life singer-songwriter. On the experience of being a musician playing a musician and performing original songs as if they were James’ own, he said, “It was quite lucky that I didn’t write the songs that I was singing because I could concentrate more on how the character was relating to that experience and that song. I didn’t have Johnny in my head going like, ‘oh you do it this way.’ I was imagining how [James Forester] should do it, how the character would do it. I just knew when it felt wrong and would try and steer it away from that.”
Still, there are a number of similarities between the man and the character he portrays. For instance, their initials. Flynn said the script made him laugh because it included a reference to an audience member at a show holding a sign that said “I Love You JF” — something Flynn has seen at his shows in real life. However, the character is one he more related to in his early 20s, when he led a more travel-based, nomadic existence. In the film, James Forester is struggling a little and just passing through Brooklyn. In real life, Johnny Flynn is happily married with a child. And, of course, starring in a movie opposite Anne Hathaway.
Hathaway reflected on the music of her childhood with Indiewire, remembering a family car trip when she was seven during which they only listened to two cassettes: Steeleye Span and Enya — “the ‘Sail Away‘ one.” Nowadays, she said, her number-one musical inspiration is Jenny Lewis. “Rilo Kiley is a band that I’ve loved for a very long time and I really got into her when I was making ‘Becoming Jane,’ so that was a million years ago. And she continues to be probably my favorite singer/songwriter. This past year I was really into St. Vincent.”
Jenny Lewis, along with Jonathan Rice, wrote the music for this film and Hathaway recently appeared in Lewis’ hilarious video for “Just One Of The Guys.” Can we expect more Hathaway-Lewis collaborations? Hathaway said, “I don’t know! That’s more to do with her inviting me into her world; she has an open invitation into mine. But I hope so! Wouldn’t that be fun? More cross-dressing magic…”