The problems with “Greetings From Tim Buckley” begin with the title. The film isn’t really about 1960-70s singer-songwriter Tim Buckley — who died from an overdose in 1975 — so much as his son, Jeff, who produced a single hit album in 1994, “Grace,” before drowning in the Mississippi River a few years later.
The film takes its name from a tribute concert to Tim Buckley, held in St. Ann’s Church in New York City in 1991. Jeff, as of yet undiscovered as a singer and working as a session guitarist, was asked to perform and, despite some reservations, his climactic appearance at the show launched his star status.
Director Daniel Algrant’s film follows Jeff (Penn Badgley of “Gossip Girl”) in the days leading up to the show, with the emphasis put on his “reservations.” Tim had left Jeff’s mother while she was pregnant, which we see in flashback — with Ben Rosenfield playing a groupie-addicted Tim — and Jeff grew up barely knowing his father or his music. Hence the resentment at being constantly compared to Tim when he arrives in New York City, with no one interested in hearing his own material.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||104 minutes|
(The film notably ignores the fact that Jeff himself changed his surname to Buckley, despite the fact that he was raised with his stepfather’s surname, Moorhead.)
Rather like Oliver Stone’s take on Jim Morrison in “The Doors,” “Greetings from Tim Buckley” focuses so much on the enormous chip on Jeff’s shoulder that the film fails to establish him as likable or talented in any way. Jeff spends the entire movie sulking and only messing around musically in the most can’t-be-bothered way. Director Daniel Algrant gives us no indication of there being any talent there whatsoever until the film’s final scene. Fans may take it for granted, but newcomers to Jeff Buckley’s music will likely be left hanging.
Jeff tries to escape the misery of having to rehearse his father’s songs by hitting on a bright-eyed girl, Allie (Imogen Poots), who works on the committee organizing the concert. The two go bopping around the East Village, but even then it’s still all about him, as he gripes to Allie, “My father was a total phony.”
This builds to a scene so misjudged, so wrong, that “epic fail” barely begins to describe it. In a record store with Allie, Jeff starts dispensing snobby opinions about every album, then launches into histrionic falsetto vocal imitations of the musicians on every record he pulls from the racks (including Led Zeppelin, T. Rex and Aretha Franklin). This may have been intended to display some raw talent or eccentricity, but it’s embarrassing to watch and reeks of “look at me” narcissism — a feeling reinforced by Jeff’s utter lack of interest in Allie while unloading all his daddy issues on her.
There’s a good film to be made about growing up with the burden of celebrity-parent expectations, but this sure ain’t it.
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