Back in 2007, I was spellbound with a little movie called ‘Once’. It was full of magic and charm and just this earthy subtlety that compelled me to every scene. And, there was the music, which was just enchanting and completely where my musical taste was at, at that time. Revisiting the film only leaves me warm inside. It still has all of the wonderful richness that made it so special and such a triumph nearly ten years ago.
Yes, I will be seeing it on the stage this winter.
So, this begs the question, “why has it taken this long for director John Carney to give us a follow up?”
Well, technically Carney has made two films in between ‘Once’ and ‘Begin Again’, but one was a thriller and the other was a comedy about some guy in a red suit pretending to be an alien. They don’t count. But, absence does make the heart grow fonder, and I couldn’t be fonder of ‘Begin Again’ than I am right now. In fact, the same warm ‘smitten’ feeling I got the first time I saw ‘Once’ has fallen over me and I find myself chomping at the bit to watch it again…and again…and again. While it doesn’t quite have that gritty realism that ‘Once’ encompassed, ‘Begin Again’ being a far more polished and detailed work, it carries with it the same passionate sentiment that made the 2007 breakout film so delightful.
And this ensemble, as varied as it is, is exquisite.
‘Begin Again’ tells the story of a washed up music producer who has fallen from grace; far from grace. He’s divorced, his daughter pretty much hates him and he’s a drunk, and because of this aspect he has just been pushed out of his position in the company that he helped build. Wasted, literally and figuratively, Dan is at a crossroads. This is when he meets Gretta, by pure chance, in a Manhattan bar. She’s an expat, straight from Britain, with a sad story to tell and a talent to help her tell it. Dan looks at her and he sees success, but his credit has run up and no one is going to help him make her dreams come true; so they work together to help themselves. In the process, they discover themselves, rediscover their passions and learn to grow.
A lot of the same points raised in ‘Once’ are raised here, with obviously a difference in scenery and even in the handling. I love how delicate the whole thing feels though. Despite the fact that we have pop stars gallivanting and pop music blaring and a superb lensing of the city with flashy edits and musical montages to resemble a music video, the film always feels human and grounded.
A lot of this is due to the incredible cast.
Keira Knightley, in my eyes, is the next Kristen Scott Thomas. This girl is such an underrated talent. I feel like she is typecast by people who don’t take the time to explore the depths of her filmography. She’s seen as the skinny girl in corsets, but she builds such tremendous depth in a variety of roles, and this is yet another example of her versatility. But, where I draw my Scott Thomas comparison is found in her ability to reflect so many raw and honest emotions in the way she controls her body. Her body language is so natural, so effortless. She never appears to be acting, ever (mostly ever). She just embodies these characters with such life. Mark Ruffalo is continuing to soar through the new life in his career, and he delivers a memorable performance. I was really surprised with how tuned in Adam Levine was here. He nails this performance, and while it doesn’t really require a lot from him, he never comes off as a singer trying to act. He feels like such a natural fit.
But MY GOD I think I fell in love with James Corden. Like, I didn’t even know who he was until this movie (you know, other than the fact that he was starring in ‘Into the Woods’ later this year), but now he’s on my radar and I can’t wait to see more. He was such a natural, delightful performance that filled the screen and stole my attention without ever being overbearing or unnecessary. His character doesn’t have a true arc and it he isn’t even really important and yet he rests so comfortably in the scope of the film that I missed him when he wasn’t on screen. He lit up, and his line readings were by far my favorite aspect of the film (the whole guitar remark was GOLD).
This is what it means to be a true supporting player.
‘Begin Again’ gets pretty much everything right. The music is catchy and charming, the story is fluid and memorable and the performances just seep into our hearts. It’s a feel good film that feels better than good, it feels great!
I give this an A! I only expect my love for this film to grow, and while it may not be the best film I've seen this year I can readily say it is my favorite. I would watch this again and again, and probably will! Oscar will most likely hand this an Original Song WIN for the beautiful 'Lost Stars', but I really wish it had a shot in some other categories...