Greetings From Tim Buckley isn’t the long-promised biopic about late singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley. Instead, it examines the storied artist’s struggle with the legacy of a father he barely knew and whose prodigious gifts as a vocalist he inherited. What we get is a film that winds up telling the story of two men who didn’t really know each other (the real Buckleys barely spent any time together before Tim’s death in 1975) but were connected through familial conflict, adoring fans, and music.
The plot is simple: It’s 1991 and Jeff (Penn Badgley) arrives for a Brooklyn tribute show to his late father where he’s expected to perform music that he’s familiar with but not necessarily enchanted by. He meets Allie (Imogen Poots) who allows him to better appreciate the gift he has and, in some small way, begin to make peace with his past. He also meets Gary Lucas (Frank Wood), a future collaborator, who makes some attempt to harness the raw talent evident in the young Buckley’s songs. (His eclecticism caused some consternation among record execs during his short recording career. One of several truths the film touches on with subtlety.)
We also see flashes of Tim’s life as he leaves a pregnant wife in California and makes his way to New York where he finds jazz and carries on an affair with another woman. Ben Rosenfield plays the elder Buckley convincingly and with the right combination of toughness and sensitivity that made both father and son so fascinating.
Badgley gives a remarkable performance, able to switch between ebullient and pensive with convincing ease and as he falls for Allie, we begin to fall for her too as Poots plays her with intelligence and a charm that is never less than touching. Frank Bello, on loan from his regular gig as bassist in Anthrax, also wows as Richard Hell. In fact, one could argue that the script itself doesn’t do much and that it is instead the atmosphere created by director Daniel Algrant, who expertly captures the sights and sounds of 1991.
There’s also, of course, the music, which carries the story and which offers the film’s emotional climax. Acclaimed singer-songwriter Jann Klose wows with three Tim Buckley gems––“Song For Janie”, “Once I Was” and “Pleasant Street”––while Badgley, under the tutelage of the real Gary Lucas, was able to handle his own vocal parts, reportedly singing all of his material live.
Some might argue and with a modicum of merit, that the thin plot and heavy conjecture on events throughout the film, doesn’t make for an accurate film; some might even say that it’s not a very good film. But that’s only accuracy as it applies to the subject’s biography and what is incredibly accurate about this film is its emotional honesty and its very human humor and sadness.
Those are the very qualities that make Greetings from Tim Buckley utterly enjoyable. It would be tempting to dismiss the movie as under realized but its greatest gift is that it’s never overly ambitious, maybe not even ambitious at all, and therefore exceeds expectations.
Greetings from Tim Buckley isn’t a movie for everyone but those who do take the time to embrace it and absorb its nuances will find immeasurable rewards. Badgley has already been praised extensively for his performance elsewhere, as has Poots, and rightfully so. For both actors, this is a film that will come to stand as something special in their filmographies.
And the soundtrack can’t be beat.
This DVD release is fairly short on extras, just a behind-the-scenes interview with Algrant, Poots, and Badgley.