Aspiring musician Jeff Buckley (Penn Badgley), 24, leaves California for New York in 1991 to reluctantly perform in a concert tribute, at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Church, to his singer-songwriter father, Tim Buckley, who died of a heroin overdose in 1975, at 28.
That’s pretty much what there is of narrative drive in Greetings From Tim Buckley. Yet director Daniel Algrant (Naked in New York, People I Know), working from a script by Emma Sheanshang and David Brendel, etches a haunting tone poem about the bond between a father and son who barely knew each other. In flashbacks, we see Tim (Ben Rosenfield) building a career that included nine albums with scant attention to family, except for sneaking into the home of his ex-wife to watch his son in his crib.
Algrant mostly dodges tear-jerking with the help of actors who stay alert to nuance, including Norbert Leo Butz as Hal Willner, the concert organizer, and a radiant Imogen Poots as Allie, an intern who tags along as Jeff visits his dad’s old haunts instead of rehearsing.
Badgley, best known for playing “lonely boy” Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl, is a revelation. He wears his role like a second skin, catching Jeff’s quirky humor (a scene at a record store where Jeff imitates rock legends is a blast) and the raw nerve he exposed in his vocals. At the concert, singing Tim’s “Once I Was” a cappella when a guitar string breaks, an unknown reveals the artist he will become. Jeff’s accidental drowning death in 1997, at 30, underscores the sense of loss in a heartfelt and deeply moving film. It’ll get to you.