Film Review: Greetings from Tim Buckley

Music-filled drama about late 20th-century father-son pop legends Tim and Jeff Buckley, who both tragically died in their 20s, amounts to several promises unfulfilled except for some solid performances and a terrific soundtrack of Buckley songs, both a

Filmmaker Dan Algrant (Naked in New York, People I Know) again displays craftsmanship with this fact-based story of Tim and Jeff Buckley. Greetings from Tim Buckley, however, suffers from sluggish pacing and a narrative spine that deserved a lot more meat on the bones. But the real problem here is that neither father Tim (Ben Rosenfield) nor, more critically, son Jeff (in spite of a committed performance from “Gossip Girl” star Penn Badgley) are appealing characters.

Whether Greetings will appeal to audiences very much depends on the strength of the Buckley and Badgley fan bases. Also interesting to watch will be the tight windows effect (the film was available on other platforms prior to its Tribeca Film Festival bow and current theatre debut).

The story kicks off in 1991 when Jeff Buckley answers a call in his L.A. digs from a group at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Church who are mounting a “Greetings from Tim Buckley” tribute show to his late father. Jeff, just a budding singer himself at the time (fame will follow, but the film stops short of that), grouses that he hardly knew his father but agrees to the trip East as it will also afford him an opportunity to perform.

At the church, an excited staff and musicians, including several who had worked with Tim, convene and make Jeff feel welcome. But the church aside, Jeff’s not in a good place, as he lets escape (perhaps not dramatically enough) how bitter he is about being abandoned by his father.

This bitterness unfortunately also informs his difficult relationship with others and produces some quirky when not off-putting behavior. His antics in an East Village “oldies” shop as he amusingly rants against rock from past decades is one of the film’s (and Jeff’s) bright spots.

Flashbacks to the ’60s and early ’70s, which show Tim as a folk star with jazz and rock influences (rising pop singer Jann Klose provided the voice for several of Tim’s songs), also reveal Tim’s poor performance offstage as a womanizer who cheated on his wife and paid her little attention even when she was pregnant with Jeff.

Jeff only met his father on a few occasions, although Tim’s musician colleague Lee (William Sadler), in Brooklyn for the tribute, tries to convince Jeff that his father made secret visits to the house to see him.

In addition to the great music (both in the flashbacks and the tribute), the film comes alive by way of Allie (Imogen Poots), the tribute’s bright intern and writer of the program notes, who admits to a crush on Jeff’s father and betrays similar leanings for the mopey son. They bond, hang out, and even trek up to a Hudson River town where Jeff had lived.

As the friendship looks promising, brittle, sullen Jeff shows some welcome cracks. But a mild falling out between him and Allie cools this until the success of the Brooklyn tribute brings things to a better place.

Not seen in the film is the fact that Jeff soon after went on to build his own career, delivering his first and only studio album in 1994. But in 1997 and in his prime, he mysteriously drowned in Tennessee just before embarking on his second album. Whether the death was an accident or suicide remains unclear; what is clear is that father Tim OD’d well before ever knowing that his son too made his own way up until an untimely fall.