Directed by: John Carney.
Written by: John Carney.
Starring: Keira Knightley (Gretta), Mark Ruffalo (Dan), Adam Levine (Dave), James Corden (Steve), Hailee Steinfeld (Violet), Yasiin Bey (Saul), Catherine Keener (Miriam), CeeLo Green (Troublegum).
John Carney’s debut film – Once (2007) – was a charming pretty much perfect little film about two unknown musicians who slowly fall in love while working together – although that love is not as clichéd you would think. It’s taken him a number of years to follow up Once – and the result is Begin Again – which kind of plays like Once, had a studio executive gotten a hold of script before it was shot and made some suggestions. Instead of Dublin, it’s in New York. Instead of two unknown musicians, we have two Oscar nominees – Keira Knightley as Gretta, an unknown singer-songwriter and Mark Ruffalo as a music exec down on his luck. Instead of her boyfriend being unseen – as in Once – he’s a rock star, played by a rock star (Adam Levine) – who cheated on her, and she’s now stuck in New York with no one to help her. And he is trying to reconnect with his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) and his teenage daughter – Hailee Steinfeld. Throw in a British reality star (James Corden), another rock star (CeeLo Green) – and a gimmick – together the two record an album outside, using the sounds of New York as a backdrop for her songs. Amazingly, despite this, and the fact the songs aren’t as good as they were in Once, Begin Again still works. It`s not as good as Once, but it`s a damn good feel good movie.
A lot of that is because of the charm of the two leads. Keira Knightley is delightful as Gretta – she is instantly lovable, with her cute accent, her pretty singing voice, and her catchy songs. She wants to make it in the music business – but wants to do it because of her music, not her image. Ruffalo is a natural at playing scruffy, and he`s in fine form as Dan, who is a drunk, just off a nervous breakdown, who has lost his job, his marriage and his daughter – and sees Gretta as his ticket to getting some of that back. The two have an instant chemistry together, although it never really gets romantic – although there is a near miss. Instead, the two share something deeper than that. The songs, performed around New York, are good, without ever raising to the level of Falling Slowly in Once.
The supporting cast is fine. Levine, making his acting debut, probably doesn’t have to stretch himself too much to play Dan – the asshole rock star – but he`s fine. Hailee Steinfeld is a typical teenage girl, but plays it well. Everyone else does a fine job as well.
There is nothing deep about Begin Again. It wants to be a feelgood movie, using music as a way of connecting to the audience. It works because of the charm of the film, even if it never really becomes all that believable. The performances are good, the music is good, and the film does precisely what it wants to do – send the audience out feeling good. That doesn’t make it a great movie, but it does make it a fun one.