‘Begin Again’: I Should Not Have Reviewed This Movie
We’re going to rap for a minute about how much I love the John Carney movie “Once.” I love it a lot. I love it too much. I first saw it with my mom in Ohio and I loved it to an acceptable amount. But then I watched it again when I was on study abroad in Belfast at the Queen’s Film Theater. It was after I’d just broken up with my boyfriend and I sat alone in that theater, sobbing loudly like an injured cow while the movie infected my soul. It changed me, guys, fo realz. Since then, I have watched it approximately 1,432 times. I named my cat after the movie’s star Marketa Irglova, prompting weird looks from the staff at my vet clinic. When I get married at the end of this summer I’m going to walk down the aisle to “Falling Slowly.”
It is actively unsettling to people how much I love this movie.
“Once” was directed on a shoestring budget and without filming permits by Carney in Dublin, and starred two relatively unknown musicians (Irglova and The Frames’ Glen Hansard). It was about two people who fall in love with each other, but more importantly, become creative partners and each other’s muses. The reason I illustrated my undying love is I wanted to demonstrate that I was probably not the best person to objectively review “Begin Again,” Carney’s attempt to remake the magic of “Once” with an American setting and a decidedly more Hollywood sensibility.
I really wanted to like “Begin Again”, but there’s something not quite right about it. Keira Knightley is Greta, a songwriter who’s just been dumped by her up-and-coming musician boyfriend (Adam Levine). Mark Ruffalo is Dan, a music exec who in the wake of his marriage’s unraveling has descended into alcoholism and self-indulgent speeches about the music industry’s lack of authenticity. They meet at an open-mic night, and after Dan hears Greta’s songs he tells her he’s going to make her a star.
In many ways it’s the same the plot as “Once” – two people down on their luck find each other and create music – and in many ways it should have worked. Knightley and Ruffalo are a charming duo, and Knightly has a surprisingly lovely singing voice. They’re backed up by a terrific cast: Hailee Steinfeld as Dan’s daughter who’s sliding into a difficult adolescence; Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) as his partner who’s gone corporate in order to prop up declining album sales, and Catherine Keener as his estranged wife. Even Adam Levine is unexpectedly agile as Greta’s philandering boyfriend, and Cee Lo Green gets to play essentially himself as one of Dan’s success stories.
It should all work, but there’s something calculating about everything in this movie, from the indie Hollywood-approved cast, to the naturalistic but somehow stagey script, to Dan’s immediate transformation from a semi-homeless drunkard to brilliant music producer. The only reason any music gets made at all in “Begin Again” is because of the noblesse oblige of Cee Lo, who comes in at opportune times to grease the wheels from his jacuzzi. It’s a typically American fantasy, and one that doesn’t fit with the loose let’s-make-a-movie feel of Carney’s filming. It wants to excoriate the music industry for its greed, saying that the savior of Greta’s “authentic” album is the great plebeian marketplace of ideas in the Internet – promoted by tweets from a celebrity.
As much as I didn’t enjoy the plot of “Begin Again,” the music is terrific, produced by New Radicals lead singer Gregg Alexander, a light folky mix that will be produced in a soundtrack by Levine.
That said, the music in “Once” was better. But that’s just my opinion.