Do you ever remember me? A tale of two Buckleys.
Raw, unfinished, filled with emotion, sadly incomplete. That was Greetings from Tim Buckley But that was also Jeff Buckley. It’s exactly what makes this movie so subtly brilliant.
I have heard complaints that the story doesn’t exactly follow the life of Jeff Buckley, nor does it have the conventions of a traditional bio-pick. But that too, was Jeff Buckley (Penn Badgley). His music was raw and unfinished and often strayed from expected conventions. He was so obviously full of emotion, and yes, his life was incomplete. Would I expect anything different from a movie chronicling part of Jeff Buckley’s life? I did, and I expected to be disappointed. I was wrong, gladly so.
In short, the plot is as follows: The year is 1991, three years before the release of Jeff Buckley’s Grace album and six years before his accidental(?) drowning. Jeff is asked to perform at a tribute concert for his father, Tim Buckley, who Jeff never really knew. Tim died of an accidental overdose in 1975. Jeff was nine. The story revolves around Jeff trying to come to terms with the legend of his father, their relationship or lack thereof, and the man Jeff would like to become.
The father-son relationship is told in a series of flashbacks very reminiscent of the 1996 John Sayles’ movie, Lone Star, with Chris Cooper and Matthew McConaughey. Another story where the son is trying to live up to the expectations of a father while becoming his own man.
Dan Algrant directs the movie like a beautiful and lyrical composition, not a musical, but a song. And it works. We want to know the story told in each verse, sing along with the chorus, and hope for more when the music ends. There are some very fine performances in this movie. Imogen Poots gives a near captivating show as a young singer inspired by the legend of Tim and enthralled by the promise of Jeff. Ben Rosenfield, who plays Tim Buckley, does so with subtle conviction. While this is very much the story of Tim, the artist and the man, it is mainly the story about a rising and fleeting star – his son, Jeff. Throughout the film, Algrant gives the viewer hints of Jeff Buckley and the man he will become (and never get the opportunity to be), and then, in a final tribute to his father, we are introduced to Jeff, the artist, in the grandest of ways and this is where Penn Badgley excels. It is simply a beautiful moment when this young man becomes the Jeff Buckley of legend and lore and music history. Just as much as it reflects the emergence of Jeff Buckley, it should do the same for Badgely. This should be a star making role for Badgley, who sang live and did not lip sync his Buckley performances. But will it be? We’ll just have to wait and see.
In most biopics about musicians, the viewer gets the story leading to the song. Here, the story is the song.
We wait for the Jeff Buckley moment and we beg for Hallelujah, but that’s not what we get. And, I expect, it’s not what Buckley would’ve have wanted in a film about him. This movie may mean less to those unfamiliar with Jeff Buckley. But to the fans, it is completely unexpected, completely fulfilling, and completely what I hoped it could be.
Could this movie have been better? Probably. Would that have made it better? I don’t think so.
Review by Gordon Shelly, special to Influx Magazine