Lonely boys – Greetings from Tim Buckley review

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By Simon Miraudo
July 30, 2013

I stuck with Gossip Girl for longer than medical practitioners would advise, only checking out around the time Chuck Bass donned a red, man-sized onesie, and Nate Archibald was suddenly deemed smart enough to become editor-in-chief of a news website, despite not being smart enough to read. Yet, even I am surprised with how successfully former ‘Lonely Boy’ Penn Badgley has graduated to the big screen. Despite small, winning roles in Easy A and Margin Call making the transition a smooth one, nothing could prepare an actor for the high expectations and immediate dismissals that come with being cast as the late pop legend Jeff Buckley. He takes on that role – with gusto – in Daniel Algrant‘s quiet, contemplative Greetings from Tim Buckley.

Set one year before the young Buckley dropped his only album, Grace, and subsequently become a star, it tells of a time in which he was still conflicted over his relationship with his late dad. Or should that be ‘non-relationship’? Tim Buckley died at the age of 28, having only met his son on a handful of occasions, instead spending his time recording and releasing nine records of his own. In 1991, a group of New York musicians plot a tribute concert, hoping the Los Angeles based Jeff will lend his voice. It’s a voice not yet entirely found by this point. He finds it over the course of the rehearsals, and finally, on stage.

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We briefly glimpse Tim circa 1967 as a travelling troubadour with no qualms about abandoning his wife and small child to share his folk songs with the world. It’s a not-entirely sympathetic portrayal, but Algrant (who co-scripted with David Brendel and Emma Sheanshang) is happy to pardon him for his sins, enlisting newcomer Ben Rosenfield to portray him with an impish innocence. Back in the 1990s, the bohemians attempt to canonise the would-be Dylan, much to the quiet protest of the still-pained Jeff.

The 60s sequences are a bust. Viewing Tim’s life through the lens of his son is an interesting angle, but I suspect he may have been a more fascinating character if resigned merely to a spectre looming large over Jeff (instead of some drifter who wouldn’t have even won screen time in that interminably long adaptation of On The Road). Much better are the documentary-like scenes of the musicians retooling and rehearsing Tim’s songs; so casual and unburdened by narrative that they feel truly organic. Best of all are Badgley’s moments; his voice startlingly close to Jeff Buckley’s own. Watching him put on an impromptu performance for concert intern Allie (Imogen Poots) at a record store is a delight, as is seeing him noodle on a guitar, hum the Casper the Friendly Ghost theme song, and pretty much do anything. It’s a fittingly understated turn, complemented by on-stage performances of Tim Buckley’s music that feels – and sounds – like real emotional catharsis. No small feat.

3/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Greetings from Tim Buckley arrives in Australian cinemas August 1, 2013.

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