In 2008 director John Carney stormed the movie world, with his wonderful heartfelt music indie called Once. It dazzled critics and audiences a like and made Carney’s next project and instant must watch. Well here is that second project Begin Again, almost a retelling of Once now with bigger stars and more of a budget. It isn’t really fair to compare the two films, but Begin Again hits all the wrong notes, that Once so beautifully displayed.
The film stars Mark Ruffalo playing the same down on his luck sad sack, he is so wonderful at playing in better films like You Can Count on Me. This time he is Dan a record producer, who hasn’t produced a talent in years and who’s boss Saul (Mos Def) fires him from his own company. On the family side of things his music journalist wife (Catherine Keener) has left him and his teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) has had enough of his drunken unreliable ways.
One night in New York in the middle of another booze fest, Dan hears Greta (Keira Knightley) an British singer and guitar player. She buts on a stiff set that leaves the audience at the bar, falling asleep in their beers. However the lyrics speak directly to Dan (because she is singing about a broken love affair with her ex boyfriend played by Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine), and in a very cool visual he envisions other instruments playing with her, making the song seem like something that will be a smash. Dan decides he wants to produce a record with Greta and they begin working together.
Where I feel that Begin Again really went wrong was with the way the characters speak to each other. As were in Once it seemed like the characters were real and having real conversations, this time around everything comes off so phony. It always feels like we are just getting everything read right off a script, as if there a cue cards right there for the actors to make sure they get it word for word. There is nothing authentic about it.
Also there are just to many moments in the movie that are simply there to move the plot along, so that everyone will have a happy ending. Greta convinces Dan’s daughter to come play guitar in one of the songs, and I bet you can guess what happens when she does! Or how about the awful scene were Greta calls her ex and records a song for him on his voice mail. Hmm I wonder if that will make him change his mind.
Begin Again does do something things correctly though. The music is just outstanding and it blasts throughout the entire film, leaving you stomping your feet as you roll your eyes at the cliches. Keira Knightly who uses her real singing voice for all the songs, is a wonder whenever there is music involved. That girl can sing and sing damn fine! Adam Levine is surprisingly very good in this film and he hits all the right notes for his character, never pushing it over the top to cheese land. Mos Def steals the show as Dan’s boss, provided the only moments in the film were I actually laughed.
Also the film really captures the way in which music can change a mood. There is one fantastic scene were Greta’s boyfriend has just arrived home from a trip to LA to record his disc, and he wants to play Keira Knightly a new song. When he does just watch the expressions in Knightly’s face, as she realizes what the song is about. It is a perfect moment that rings more true then anything else in the film.
It is those little things that are done so well, that make Begin Again that much more of a disappointment, because you just know if that writing had been just a bit more realistic and honest this film would have been as wonderful as Once. It has all the elements to be a huge success but just falls so flat.