Penn Badgley Proves He Can Really Act With 'Greetings From Tim Buckley'
Actor Penn Badgley made a huge splash at the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday night with the US premiere of his new film, Greetings From Tim Buckley. Directed by Daniel Algrant, this film has pop-culture buzz for two reasons: 1) it is basically a two-hour long Tim Buckley music video 2) it stars The WB/CW sweatheart, Badgley. One of the major reason audiences will go see this movie is to see if Badgley is more than just a pretty face.
Can he seriously act? Yes, yes he can!
I was a teenager when I first fell in love with Penn Badgley; in fact, so was he. The year was 2004 — the television show, The Mountain, and, though I have never met another soul who watched it when it aired on the WB, I like to think it’s where his career really took off. After The Mountain was canceled (it barely lasted half a season), Badgley moved on to his next failed WB show, The Bedford Diaries (also canceled after half a season). Neither show lasted long enough for him to really prove himself as an actor, but he sure fit the bill for eye candy, and I was hooked. It wasn’t really until John Tucker Must Die came out in 2006 that my friends hopped on the Penn Badgley train. The film marked the beginning of his time as a teen heartthrob. Of course, one buzz cut and a year later, he became one of the most recognizable young actors around when Gossip Girl premiered on The CW in 2007.
I can tell you first hand that, if you were a teenage girl in 2007-2008, you had a crush on Badgley and his awkwardly charming character, Dan Humphrey. Dan, arguably the most consistently interesting character during the show’s six-season run, was the character every girl wanted to date. He was sweet, funny, didn’t take himself too seriously, and, okay, he was quite easy on the eyes. But, Badgley’s dry and witty delivery didn’t hurt either.
It’s difficult to really show your talent as an actor on a show like Gossip Girl. And, though the show started out strong, the quality of the writing quickly dwindled, leaving Badgley with little more to do than brood and look pretty. He wasn’t given enough material to really challenge himself as an actor, but then again, neither did any of the other cast members.
During his time on the show, Badgley played hot teenagers in The Stepfather (2009) and Easy A (2010) — not straying too far from his Gossip Girl persona. It wasn’t until Margin Call (2011) that Badgley really broke away from type, playing the small, but effective role of a young Wall Street trader during the financial crisis of 2008.
We all know that Penn Badgley, the teenage dream, is wonderful, but what about Penn Badgley the serious actor? In Margin Call, he made the first step, and in Greetings from Tim Buckley, he arrives.
As Jeff Buckley in the new indie film, his first big lead since The Stepfather, Badgley finally has a platform to show the world what he can do. He not only gives a magnificent performance, but he also gets to show off his astounding musical talents. For the film to work, you need to believe that Jeff lives every second with music in his head. He is never without it, no matter what. And Badgley makes you believe it. He makes you want to watch the movie. He even delivers the best ‘performance in a record store’ scene since Jon Cryer’s in Pretty in Pink (1986).
The story, about a young man who struggles to pay tribute to his legendary musician father, is very moving, but it doesn’t carry you through the entire film. However, every mediocre scene in the film — really, every scene without Penn Badgley — is fascinating because you want to see how they affect Jeff and Badgley’s performance. Jeff is truly a difficult character to pin down. He is sweet and charming, but also dark and angry. He doesn’t sulk, but he doesn’t exude happiness either, and it would be all too easy for the role to feel forced. Badgley had to beware of being overdramatic or too wooden, and he succeeded flawlessly..
No scene proves this point better than the final performance. At the tribute concert in 1991 Brooklyn, Jeff Buckley famously took the stage to perform a stripped down version of his father’s song, "Once I Was." The whole film leads up to this moment, when Jeff claims part of his father for himself, and Badgley not only acts it perfectly, he sings beautifully too. The performance, which was shot live, is so stirring, it takes your breath away.
Greetings from Tim Buckley is going to be remembered as the film that launched Penn Badgley’s career in film. That isn’t to say the other parts of the film aren’t memorable. Imogene Poots is a real breath of fresh air as Jeff’s love interest, Allie, and the music, of course, is phenomenal. In fact, the only thing that doesn’t work is the extremely shaky camera, which makes the movie look like it’s trying too hard to be gritty and indie. Still, Badgley shines whenever he is onscreen, and he makes this Tribeca film a must see.