Ben Rosenfield as Tim Buckley
Ben Rosenfield as Tim Buckley

Review: Greetings from Tim Buckley at the Newport Beach Film Festival

It's pretty risky when Hollywood decides to tell a story about musicians, and instead of doing a straight-up documentary, they attempt to recreate the whole scenario. Sometimes the result is amazing, ala Almost Famous, and sometimes not so much (see: The Buddy Holly Story and The Doors). Greetings From Tim Buckley falls somewhere in between.

The film, directed by Daniel Algrant, is a dramatized snapshot of the tribute concert given for Anaheim's Tim Buckley in 1991.

Held within the walls of St. Ann's church in Brooklyn, standing in all its intricate glory, the show was a success. This is, in part, due to that fact that the late Tim's son, Jeff Buckley, came to play the show after much back and forth. Unfamiliar with the Buckleys' story myself, you learn early on that Jeff met his father all of two times and held an understandable amount of resentment. Played by, oddly enough, Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley, Jeff arrives in Brooklyn extremely skeptical and frequently staring off from under his luscious black hair.

The film never really takes off from here and its energy stays level for the most part. Not surprisingly, there's a cute girl who is working on the show whom Jeff falls for as he tries to understand his father and realize his own music.

The slow pace is definitely aided by the handful of attractive characters, though. Allie, Jeff's love interest played by Imogen Poots, is devastatingly beautiful--even in her unfortunate '90s clothes that place her somewhere between a hipster and a 10-year-old. And she's so good at playing hard to get that even I wanted her. Yet, outside of that, her character made little sense--a fault of the screenwriter and not Poots. Allie is constantly riding the fence between being confident and childish, and it feels like she was placed in the story simply because a romance was necessary.

Jeff and Allie spend their days awkwardly flirting and working on the show, and the latter is truly a saving grace of the film. The cast of musicians had a raw energy that you would expect from people who had played music through the '60s, and the recreation of Tim's songs feel just right. The guitarists play lovingly weathered Strats, Teles, Taylors and Guilds while stomping their feet on a worn-in Morrocan rug. It wouldn't be surprising at all if the cast, including Anthrax's Frank Bello, were actually true fans of the music.

Which brings me to the second saving grace of the film--the flashbacks to Tim in 1966, when Jeff was just about to pop out of the oven. It was pretty cool seeing "Orange County" pop up on the screen and remembering that we've actually had some phenomenal artists come from behind the curtain. In these quick shots, Tim leaves his pregnant wife and picks up his girlfriend for a cross-country tour. Played by newcomer Ben Rosenfield, Tim is cast a little young but well nonetheless. Rosenfield holds a striking resemblance to him and has his same confident yet soft demeanor.

It's hard to say what diehard Buckley fans would say about the film. Penn's vocal performance as Jeff was very impressive, but it seemed that he had difficulty walking the line between being devastated at times, and outrageously silly at others. Yet no matter what any fan feels, the film is worth renting for at least the last 15 minutes. The actual Greetings from Tim Buckley concert was very touching, and I almost wish that the entire movie had just been the concert played out in full.

And then there's a closing scene, which I will not reveal here. It only cloaks Tim in more mystery and makes us continue to wonder why he never stuck around for his baby boy.

Greetings from Tim Buckley opens in some U.S. theaters Friday. Check your local listings to see if it's playing here.

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