There are times when you know — you just know — that someone is lip-syncing in movies. We all knew Lou Diamond Phillips was lip-syncing in La Bamba, and even Michael J. Fox lip-synced his famous ‘Johnny B. Goode’ performance in Back to the Future.
So imagine my immense surprise at the Toronto Film Festival screening of Jeff Buckley biopic Greetings From Tim Buckley, when Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley (playing Jeff Buckley) opened his mouth to sing and it was his voice, and it was good. Not just actor-good, but good-good. It was so jarring that I had to immediately look up his credentials, just to make sure. Yep, it was him, all right.
There was very little fanfare behind this movie, so a) I wasn’t expecting much, and b) I admit that I gave Badgley little credit — for whatever reason, his Gossip Girl pedigree led me to believe that he’d have a voice dub-over. I ignored his previous (yet winning) roles in Easy A and Margin Call, but after witnessing his performance in Buckley, I see Badgley in a whole new light.
One scene in particular is killer, about one-third into the film: Badgley and co-star Imogen Poots are in a New York City vinyl shop (it’s the early ’90s, remember), and he’s fumbling through records. He suddenly breaks into song, and runs the gamut of genres — jazz, rock, you name it — and he hit the notes so precisely, and so beautifully, the entire theatre burst into applause when he was through.
Badgley’s voice has it all. I’m no music critic, and I don’t claim to be, but there is something very appealing and captivating about his singing. He has vibrato, crescendo and harmony, and to boot, the guy plays the guitar impressively well. I dare say he’s better than a lot of musicians who get tons of airtime on the radio right now.
It’s heartening when a celebrity breaks the mold, especially at a film festival. It feels, at least to me, that that’s what the festivals are there for: to discover as-yet-unknown talent. What makes it even better is Badgley transcends his “teen appeal” persona by taking on this role. Buckley is idolized in certain circles, so he was taking a pretty large risk. I think both Badgley and Buckley fans will be pleasantly surprised.
Farewell, Gossip Girl, it seems Badgley’s moving on to greener pastures.
"Greetings From Tim Buckley" Premiere - 2012 Toronto International Film Festival - September 9, 2012