Begin Again Comedy

A Film Review in G Minor: Begin Again

July 11, 2014Ben MK

  Share on Tumblr  
      Delicious Add to Delicious  

Once again...

Following up a film as musically heartfelt as Once — a film that not only garnered an Oscar win for best original song but also spawned a Tony award-winning Broadway musical — is no easy feat. A lot has changed in the seven years since writer/director John Carney's sleeper hit first met with the eyes and ears of moviegoers: its stars, musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, rose to stardom, released two albums under the moniker The Swell Season and then parted ways. However, the spirit of that film lives on, as is plainly evident in Carney's latest, Begin Again.


Like Once, Begin Again is a story about relationships, told through song, in which happenstance brings together two strangers, leading them on a journey of musical and self-discovery.

This time, the story revolves around Gretta (Keira Knightley) and Dan (Mark Ruffalo): she, a heartbroken singer/songwriter who's just ended her relationship with her rockstar beau, Dave (Maroon 5's Adam Levine), and he, a recently unemployed record producer who's also dealing with being separated from his wife of 18 years, Miriam (Catherine Keener). As luck would have it, they find each other at a New York City bar during an open mic night, where Gretta happens to be playing and Dan happens to be drowning his sorrows. Her singing strikes a chord with Dan, who seems to be the only one in the bar who can hear Gretta's true potential, thanks to the imaginary musical arrangements brought on by his inebriated state. But when he offers to sign her to his record label, she flatly refuses.

Although Gretta isn't keen on being in the spotlight — in fact, she's booked a flight back to England the very next day — she begins to warm up to Dan once she realizes that they share something in common: they're both lonely souls who've hit rock bottom. He manages to convince her to postpone her departure, confident that his former business partner, Saul (Mos Def), will want to sign her to a record contract on the spot. However, the only thing that will convince Saul is a demo. And so, with neither the money to rent a proper recording studio nor to hire musicians, they opt to use the city itself as their studio. And calling in some favors from a few friends — including Gretta's pal and fellow musician, Steve (James Corden), Dan's estranged teenage daughter (and wannabe guitarist), Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), and the eccentric rap star Troublegum (CeeLo Green) — they set out to record an album.

Unlike Once, Begin Again isn't structured around a budding romance between its two leads, even though sparks do fly between Knightley and Ruffalo (most notably in a sequence where Gretta and Dan take a leisurely nighttime stroll through the streets of New York, accompanied by the vocals of Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder on her iPod). On the contrary, the movie is all about how its characters deal with the emotional fallout from their broken relationships and, in some cases, learn how to mend them.

Half of this is conveyed (quite sublimely) in the film's songs — from the show-opening 'A Step You Can't Take Back' to the closing track, 'Lost Stars' — which are sung with down-to-earth grace and charm by Knightley and Levine and will stay with audiences long past the closing credits. Carney uses the songs to tremendous effect, allowing their lyrics to help chart the characters' thoughts and emotions, sometimes playing different renditions of the same song to convey varying perspectives or to heighten its emotional impact.

The music is complemented by the actors' performances, especially that of Knightley and Ruffalo, who fill their roles with an irresistible charm, even when their characters aren't feeling nearly their best. The two leads set a bassline for the tone of the entire film, one that's never overly melancholy, despite their relationship woes. There's always a gentle airiness about — whether it arises from Knightley's impish smile or Ruffalo's gruff, yet loveable, demeanor — and it makes the movie feel refreshing, even if the broad strokes of the story are something we've seen once before.

The Bottom Line Fittingly enough, Begin Again begins with a song — a song that plays deeply into the emotion of the story. It's a refrain that's repeated throughout the course of the narrative, and though that makes it thematically similar to Once, it's markedly different from Carney's breakthrough film. Although the writer/director's latest isn't without moments of sincere emotion, it's also unabashedly buoyant and sentimental. Think of it as the feel-good, radio-friendly pop song to the raw, acoustic ballad that is Once. Begin Again has an undeniable, mass appeal, but that doesn't make it any less engaging.  Ben Mk

You May Also Like