DVD Review: Begin Again

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 12.04.02Directed by John Carney

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley &

In 2006 Irish writer/director John Carney made the breakout sleeper hit of the year in his indie musical Once which went on to win an Academy award and spawn  a hit Broadway musical spin-off.  In his latest film, Begin Again, Carney tries to make lightning strike twice and just about succeeds.

It tells the story of Gretta (Knightley), a rising Pop star’s girlfriend and a sometime songstress. A spiral of personal calamities finds her on stage at an open-mic night making her swansong performance before she flies back to England with her tail between her legs. This performance though catches the well-trained ear of Dan (Ruffalo), a self-destructive record producer on a downswing. He is bowled over by her song and raw talent and in one of the film’s few delightfully imaginative scenes, he mentally composes an arrangement around her bare vocals & acoustic guitar rendition, as scattered instruments come to life and begin playing themselves like broomsticks and buckets brought to life in the famous ‘Sorcerers’ Apprentice’ segment of Disney’s Fantasia.He tries to sign her on the spot, and the rest of the film centers on their efforts to produce an album as they also strive to pick up the pieces of their derailed careers and place them back on track.

Carney revisits a central narrative theme of ‘Once’ : street level filmmaking and the cathartic power of music, but the film. originally called ‘Can A Song Save Your Life?’, exchanges Once‘s meet cute of a vacuum cleaner for two lost souls finding each other through the miracle of a song.

In a way this film is Once with a broader palette, a New York setting and a starry cast but these characters not only find themselves but attempt to protect their new found honesty from the corrupting machinations of The Industry.

This movie offers several surprises.From the trailer you’d be think that it was going to be some schmaltzy middle of the road mash-up of Jerry Maguire & Once – which it kind of is but it’s performed with such charm, sincerity and heart that it will win many audiences over. despite the moments when its earnestness flirts with being saccharine.

The style is quite novel, it takes the vaguely preposterous idea of recording an ‘out on the streets’ album on the rooftops and trashcan alleyways of Manhattan, that’s more the modus operarandi of low budget filmmaking, and this gives the songs and the scenes themselves a raw energy and a gung ho spirit.The songs themselves are somewhat twee but told the story well and the criticism against the music industry in respect to finding new marketing models for the iTunes age was very timely. It even touches upon the toil that building a career in music can have of relationships and how chasing trendy production can ruin the honesty and creative impact of a song.

The movie’s ambiguous pseudo-ending and it’s real ending, the rushed credits sequence really are quite jarring. Sometimes two lost souls rediscovering their purpose in a joint goal is more satisfying than a romantic relationship.

3/5

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