Film review: ‘Greetings From Tim Buckley’

Penn Badgley embodies the young, pre-fame Jeff Buckley in "Greetings From Tim Buckley" Credit: K.C. Bailey
Penn Badgley embodies the young, pre-fame Jeff Buckley in “Greetings From Tim Buckley”
Credit: K.C. Bailey

‘Greetings From Tim Buckley’
Director: Daniel Algrant
Stars: Penn Badgley, Imogen Poots
Rating: NR
2 (out of 5) Globes

One day may bring a dreadful, career-spanning Great Man biopic about Jeff Buckley, the singer-songwriter who drowned days before recording his sophomore album. The existence of a smaller, more intimate entry like “Greetings From Tim Buckley” — named for his dad, another musical martyr, who figures here like a ghost — at least forestalls the inevitable. Daniel Algrant’s indie, starring Penn Badgley as the young, pre-fame crooner, trades in many of the same biopic cliches, including viewing Buckley less as a person than as a magical embodiment of free spirit and deep hurt. But for every irritation there’s a lovely moment that breaks out of the mould.

Like “Topsy-Turvy” and the recent “Renoir,” “Buckley” zeroes in on a tiny slither of an artist’s life, namely the handful of days before Buckley the younger’s first public performance in 1991. A concert in honor of his late father, whom he met twice ever, is being organized and Jeff’s presence is requested, though no one yet knows he’s a future doomed genius. Arriving in New York City, he instantly woos the easily-wooable Allie (Imogen Poots, alert and exciting as usual), a concert aide. She winds up skipping work to gallivant with this brand new sensitive type who does epic, impromptu Robert Plant impersonations while leafing through records.

“We have to go back,” Allie avers during one of his instinctive travels. “No, we have to go forth,” he declaims. The film’s Buckley can turn from carefree to brooding on a dime, and what seems like a whimsical jaunt on Amtrak winds up holding deeper meaning for him. This only makes Allie melt more, because of course it does.

Grating and rock biopic cliched as some of this can be, there’s a lot to admire here. Algrant’s script periodically jumps back to Tim Buckley (Ben Rosenfield), as he goes off on his own devil-may-care trek, spouting cheesy lines as he seduces his own set of ladies. Jeff is different and the same: he has some of the same moves, as if through genetics, but unlike his father, he’s burdened by the absence of a famous dad everyone seems to know as well as he does. Algrant doesn’t lean too hard on the juxtapositions, and he only dwells partially on scenes where Buckley acts like a sensitive singer-songwriter god-in-the-making. Scenes set to music flow at the unhurried, languid pace of the songs themselves, giving over to the mood and the erudition embedded in the lyrics, staying contemplative before getting back to characters’ ruining everything by talking.


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