Once is one of my favorite movie musicals. It’s perfectly acted and filled with excellent music. So when I heard director John Carney had a new “musical” film out – a term I feel loosely describes the experience these two movies deliver – I just had to go see it.
Begin Again opens with Steve (James Corden) introducing his friends to Greta (Keira Knightley), who is in town for a short while. He wants her to get up on stage and sing. At first she refuses, but she eventually obliges. The audience as a whole doesn’t dig her singing, but one man, Dan, does. Then we jump to the start of the day and we follow Dan (Mark Ruffalo) to the point where he ended up at the bar. He offers her a record contract on the spot and she says she’ll call him in the morning with her answer. Then the film jumps back six months and we get Greta’s story. Now that we know these two characters, and why they are here, we jump to the present, where Greta is trying to decide if she should accept Dan’s offer.
The plot moves at a swift pace, and the backstory really brings these two characters to life, helping build an understanding of the people around them. I don’t want to ruin too much, so I’ll leave it at that, but Begin Again made me laugh and cry both tears of joy and sadness.
Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley turn in outstanding performances in Begin Again. So much energy is put forth by Ruffalo, and despite being a very flawed human being, the audience wants everything to work out for him. Knightley, an actress I’ve never liked, does a fantastic job of being a sad, but strong-willed person who just can’t grasp what is happening around her.
There’s a scene around the midway point where Steve and Greta meet at night while he is street performing. Steve smiles like he sees his best friend, a throwback, if you will, to the first time they meet in the city. He then takes in the whole picture, his expression changes, and he tosses the guitar to the ground, runs to her, and holds her tight. It’s such a strong scene, and one that really stuck with me, and it is all from a supporting actor. Not everything is perfect as Adam Levine (from the band Maroon 5) plays an important role, and while the chemistry is there, his acting is clearly not on par with everyone else in the film. However, his vocal style, attractiveness, and stardom were the reasons he was cast, and he does give it his best effort.
John Carney does a fantastic job of bringing a wide range of characters together and creating some great musical moments. There are so many scenes that could go wrong, but they never do. There’s a scene where Dave tells Greta that he would throw his CD into the ocean and never release it if they could stay right there in that moment. Instead of just falling head over heels, she exclaims, “you would do that?” and his simple response sums up his entire character.
Begin Again is not a typical romantic comedy. Sure, it has both genres’ elements, but it is more about the love of music than of two people. There’s a fantastic scene where Dan and Greta are sitting on a bench in New York City at night, listening to one of her favorite songs; the following moments are very Fellini-like, and I think that’s when I fell in love with Begin Again.
It’s rare that I will see a movie twice in theatres, but after watching it once, I knew that I had to share this experience with someone else, so I went back to see it again with a friend. Begin Again captures everything that makes this type of movie enjoyable: great chemistry between the cast, who are clearly giving it their all, and excellent music. While the ideas of the second act seem mildly implausible, I found myself falling into the film’s groove both times I saw it. Begin Again feels like a perfect companion piece to Once, and fans of the latter should absolutely check it out.