After his critically acclaimed musical Once, director John Carney did a few other projects that apparently didn’t get much notice (Zonad?), and he now returns to the musical well with Begin Again, which is sort of like Once, minus the Irish, so you can understand what the people are saying.
I saw Once, but not in the theater, which is often like not seeing it at all for me (see my upcoming Rifftrax: Godzilla review, e.g.). I think I had a hard time understanding what they were saying and with the low-budget audio and film quality I got distracted, so I barely remember it. It’s supposed to be great.
Begin Again isn’t supposed to be as good but I liked it a lot more, as did The Boy, or The Boy did insofar as he could remember seeing Once, which he was pretty confident he hadn’t. On the other hand, I remembered him hating it, which is why I didn’t recommend going to see Begin Again.
But we gambled and won on this tale of broken-hearted songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightly, looking unusually appealing) who crosses path with a washed-up and broken-hearted music producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo, looking Ruffolish), who hears in her song the sort of music that inspired him to become a washed-up broken-hearted music producer in the first place.
Wait, no, just a music producer. And a successful one once, before some domestic troubles with his wife (Catherine Keener, looking Keen) caused him to be alienated from his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld, looking Steining, okay, I’ll stop now).
The broke Dan decides to make an album with Gretta on the streets of New York City—a truly awful idea musically, but a good cinematic gimmick—with no money and by calling in a lot of favors. In doing so, he reconnects with his long-lost mojo and gives Gretta a chance to reconnect with her cad of a boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine).
Meanwhile, there’s a distinct attraction building between the Dan and Gretta, that both largely give a wide berth, but which might burst through at any moment, adding a weird Hollywood ending to an otherwise unique indie-feeling film.
Not saying it does or doesn’t. No spoilers.
It’s not really a movie with much of a plot, but neither does it need much: “Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl trashes boy” and its gender-complement do the trick. The movie relies on conveying the emotions of the characters as they decide what’s important to them in life, primarily through music and montage.
And it works! Surprisingly well. I know this because The Boy approved, and he is largely immune to music. Ultimately, it boils down to Carney’s light touch. He’s not worried about the narrative; he just lets the music and the episodic nature of the performances build a story about repairing broken hearts.
Obviously this would work less well if the cast wasn’t up to it, but they all do a fine job, including potential the stunt-casting roles for Levine, Cee Lo Green and Mos Def. James Corden, whom I last recall seeing in The History Boys, has a good turn as Gretta’s best platonic pal.
And the music is good.