Tim Buckley’s prodigious musical gifts bloomed in inverse proportion to his paternal instincts. The legendary folk-jazz singer wrote some of the most beautiful songs ever and sang like a demonic angel. But—unfortunately for his son Jeff, also an inordinately talented vocalist/composer—Tim couldn’t father worth a damn (he reputedly saw his child only twice). “My wife hates my music” seems to be his rationale to cheat.
Greetings from Tim Buckley revolves around the conflict the ignored offspring feels about performing at a tribute concert in Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Church for his absentee pa, who died at 28 of an accidental drug overdose. (Jeff died at 30 while swimming fully clothed in Memphis’s Wolf River.) Light on dramatic tension, the film toggles between Jeff’s preparation for the 1991 event—and the attendant mixed feelings toward his father’s legacy—and Tim’s musical and sexual conquests circa 1966, the year Jeff was born.
The extraordinarily cheekboned Penn Badgley portrays Jeff as a tormented artiste who broods cutely. He adequately approximates Buckley’s soaring, ululating vocal style, and at the climactic concert, he aces two Tim songs—“I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain” and “Phantasmagoria in Two”—with the makeshift band, including Jeff’s real-life musical partner, Gary Lucas. The show concludes with Jeff owning the tenderly gorgeous ballad “Once I Was” solo. Thus, Jeff Buckley’s career was launched.
The budding-romance side plot between Jeff and tribute-concert factotum Allie (Imogen Poots) adds little to the real meat of Greetings: the immortal compellingness of Tim Buckley’s songs—even in the film’s rearranged versions of them. (For a more thorough homage to Tim’s music, see the 2007 doc My Fleeting House.)