Greetings from Tim Buckley is not a documentary about the famed folk singer and father of 90’s rock legend Jeff Buckley but a partial biopic of both men. The film is set during the lead up to a 1991 tribute concert to Tim, an event in which Jeff announced his considerable talents to the world and where, according to the film, he was forced to confront his deep resentment for the father who he felt had abandoned him. The film suggests that Jeff’s contempt for his father at this time was actually impeding his musical development. Consequently, the film is also a tribute to the people who helped Jeff reconcile his anger toward his father and express his own prodigious musical talent.
Tim and Jeff Buckley are fascinating subjects for a biopic but this film barely scratches the surface of either man’s life. The extremely slender plot disappointingly spends too much time showing Jeff (Penn Badgely) acting miserable and petulantly dissing his Father’s legacy. We see little of Tim Buckley apart from a few flashback sequences depicting him as a young man on the cusp of fame in the 1960’s. It could be argued that the flashbacks are deliberately brief as they represent Jeff’s fleeting memories of his father but a more detailed study of Tim Buckley would have been welcome.
The film also skims the surface of their music with many notable songs such as Tim’s classic Dolphins absent from the soundtrack. There are also very few of Jeff’s songs although to be fair, the film is set three years before the release of his debut album Grace. Where Jeff’s songs are featured (such as Lilac Wine) they’re actually sung by Penn Badgely. The film hints at the various influences on Tim’s music (sultry jazz and the folk sounds of the 1960’s protest movement) and Jeff’s music (decade-defining bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Smiths) but a more comprehensive look at the musical world in which both men were immersed would have been more satisfying. Jeff’s fans will, however, salivate over scenes in which he and guitarist Gary Lucas (Frank Wood) work up an early version of Jeff’s classic Grace.
Perhaps to engender mainstream appeal the film spends an inordinate amount of time on Jeff’s tentative romance with Allie (Imogen Poots) who is helping to organise the tribute concert. While Poots is once again very good, the love story gets in the way of the music.
Badgely looks a little like Jeff Buckley and can almost sing like him but he comes across more like a grumpy pretty boy than a genuinely tortured figure so he fails to provide a compelling emotional centre to this film. He’s also quite irritating at times, particularly the scene in a record shop where he sings a maniacal mash-up of Led Zeppelin songs and in the process demeans both Jeff Buckley and Led Zeppelin.
The recreations of the 1960’s and the 1990’s are convincing and thankfully not excessively art-directed but it seems a little odd that there’s virtually no mention of the prevailing music trends in 1991 such as the emerging grunge movement.
Simply touching on the lives of these two enigmatic and hugely talented figures will be sufficiently tantalising for hard core fans to make them want to see this film. As a biopic, though, this film is underdone and doesn’t offer enough about Tim and Jeff Buckley’s lives and music to convert those not already enamoured of the two rock pioneers.
Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.
Director(s): Daniel Algrant
Release date: 1st Aug 2013.
Running time: 103 mins.
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