Life is full of cruel ironies, and that was especially true for 1960s folk icon Tim Buckley and his estranged son, Jeff. Tim recorded nine albums before he died in 1975, at 28, from an accidental overdose. Jeff’s parents had divorced before he was born, and he met his absentee father only twice, very briefly, in early childhood. After releasing one acclaimed album (“Grace”) in 1994, 30-year-old Jeff tragically drowned in Memphis, Tenn., in 1997.
As conceived by director and co-writer Daniel Algrant, “Greetings from Tim Buckley” attempts to reunite father and son, if only in spirit, through two strategies that don’t quite gel into a unifying whole. Balancing parallel slices of biography (Tim in 1966, Jeff in ’91) with the re-creation of a Tim Buckley tribute concert in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., in 1991, Algrant strives to connect their musical and emotional legacies to the larger theme of father-and-son dynamics.
That tribute gig launched Jeff’s career, and “Gossip Girl” actor/musician Penn Badgley has earned well-deserved praise for portraying Jeff as a reluctant protostar with a four-octave vocal range. He’s a moping, melancholy hipster, reluctant to honor the father he never knew. Spontaneous romance with a bohemian concert intern (played with wistful charm by Imogen Poots) boosts his spirits — and briefly, the movie’s vitality — and the tribute concert becomes the film’s ad hoc centerpiece.
As Tim Buckley’s songs fill the soundtrack, Algrant’s desire to reunite father and son through music is admirable, but “Greetings from Tim Buckley” is too meandering and ethereal to have any lasting impact. Some scenes feel easily disposable, and while the ’66 scenes capture the smoky atmosphere of the Greenwich Village folk scene (with Ben Rosenfield as Tim), they offer precious little insight into the errant father’s character.
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As Buckley fans know, another irony developed beyond this movie’s purview: Posthumously, Jeff is best known for his hauntingly beautiful cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” since heard in countless movies and TV shows. We can only wonder, did he feel more connected to Cohen than to his own elusive father?