Nutshell: I’d give Begin Again an A-. It’s not absolutely perfect, but with beautiful music, a plot that unwinds at it’s own pace without ever veering into boring, and cinematography that’s gritty and lovely at the same time? It’s pretty close. Oh, and Keira Knightley has an absolutely lovely singing voice.
I’ve yet to see Once. I know. I’m a music nut that hasn’t seen THE movie yet. It’s on my ever-expanding list. But after seeing Begin Again, it’s gotten a huge bump-up. Director John Carney — who helmed both films — has a way with fitting music into stories that avoids the dreaded Glee Problem. (It’s been 5 minutes since we sang? Okay then, let’s rip!) InBegin Again, human bar sponge Dan (Mark Ruffalo at his scruffiest) used to be a big player in the music industry. Now he plays at being a responsible adult, and he’s failing miserably. Separated from his wife, distanced from his daughter, and chucked out of the company he built, it’s all downhill from here. Until he stops into a bar and hears Greta (Kiera Knightly, at her sweetest) during open mic. Seems she came to NYC with her boyfriend (Adam Levine, at his hipster douchiest) , as his singer/songwriter star was beginning to rise. As it rose, he became a douche. Bye-bye, Greta; hello fame and new wimmin! Can Dan and Greta pull themselves out of their respective funks and make beautiful music together? Of course they can, silly.
Carney does double-duty here as director and screenwriter, and that could be part of the reason the film flows so very well. As Dan and Greta travel around NYC trying to record Greta’s songs, the city itself becomes a character, helping these two by providing interesting off-the-beaten-track places for them to record. (Did Mercedes do the same thing in the last season of Glee? A’yup. Must be a thing.) Begin Again could be called a montage musical, with it’s cuts from scene to scene. However, that would be from folks who apparently zoned out during the meatier dramatic scenes. Their loss.
One of my favorite things about this storyline? Spoilers, sweetie: I give Begin Again a huge thumbs-up for not pushing Greta and Dan together. There’s a bit of maybe/possibly, as would be the case anytime two single people that get on so well work closely together. But thankfully this doesn’t push the usual “older guy with much younger woman” agenda Hollywood tends to promote. Plus, Katherine Keener’s crunchy music journalist is awesome, and Dan would be a fool to stop working on that relationship.
A few other shout-outs and I’ll end this love fest. CeeLo Green plays rap star Troublegum (love that name), and he’s all smooth smiles. But there’s a scene where the sly smiles stop, and Troublegum takes Greta aside to tell her exactly how much he owes Dan for all the success Trub has enjoyed. It’s a tip of the hat not only to the character, but to all record-execs who ever gave a damn. And it’s touching. Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) plays Dan’s daughter Violet, and the slow change from disaffected teen who hates her dad to girl who’s beginning to be okay with the world is low-key but effective.
The soundtrack is absolutely dreamy; my favorite is “Like A Fool”, with Knightley nailing the anger and hurt of a woman who has finally realized she’s been giving too much and getting too little. And fine, even Levine shines; though since he’s a singer IRL (Maroon 5 anyone?) that’s to be expected.
Summertime and the livin’ is easy. If you want a movie that’s just as easy, breezy and lovely as a beautiful summer day, look no further than Begin Again. You’re welcome.