(Daniel Algrant, 2012)
From a distance, a dual biopic of Tim and Jeff Buckley seemed like a thoroughly bad idea.
Two beautiful singer-songwriters with magnificent voices, both dead tragically young: it appeared a recipe for biopic cliche disaster. Which makes Greetings From Tim Buckley a very pleasant surprise indeed.
It focuses on a few crucial days in the life of Jeff Buckley (Penn Badgely) in 1991, when he travelled to New York from California to appear at a Memorial concert for his father Tim (Ben Rosenfield). At the same time the story flashes back periodically to the period in Tim's life around the birth of his son, while he gigged on the road, slept with women in motels and generally lived like any musician in the 1960s probably would.
Narrowing the focus this way pays off - Jeff is portrayed as a damaged, needy, spontaneous young man, riddled with issues about his father and still discovering how best to use his talent. Over the few days in New York, he and Allie (Imogen Poots) begin a tentative relationship, and we largely see him through her curious, quietly baffled eyes. Badgely does well to show just how selfish and annoying Jeff could be without ever seeming unsympathetic, and he excels in the music scenes - a sequence where he performs a medley of Led Zepellin 3 acapella in a record shop is probably the best in the film.
Though Tim is kept at a remove by this narrative, Rosenfield makes him a melancholy presence even as he works his way through a big rock star cliche.
The music is key, of course. The climax is provided by the concert where Jeff comes good and seems to make some peace with his father's memory and songs, but there is also an exhilarating scene where he and Gary Lucas jam on what would become "Grace". That's probably the most conventionally "biopic" moment here, but it feels quite loose and casual, as does much of the rest of the film.
It's nicely acted and surprisingly emotional; Jeff's arc is all about acceptance and empathy, and that is a difficult journey for him in this story. Crucially it is soundtracked by a couple of brilliant Tim Buckley songs too, though Jeff's music is absent.