Director: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, James Corden, Ceelo Green, Yasiin Bey
Written by: John Carney
Running Time: 104 mins
Release date: 11th July 2014
Back in 2006, John Carney directed a film that has captured the hearts of many, include mine, called Once. This simple yet beautifully produced tale of a busker and his relationship with an immigrant in Dublin, included an Oscar-winning song and has gone on to be a successful Broadway and West End show. Now Carney is back with another tale of lost souls drawn together by music in the pitch perfect musical drama, Begin Again, a feel-good tale that will capture you with its songs and the characters you want to spend time with.
Dan is a troubled man. An alcoholic who is losing grip on life. His wife threw him out, his daughter doesn’t respect him and the music production company he build don’t want to know him anymore. Greta is a songwriter, lost in the big city. Her boyfriend, Dave, who she wrote songs with, has become an overnight sensation and she soon discovers he’s been seeing someone else. Wanting to go home, she is forced to sing at an open mic by her friend, Steve. This is where Dan hears her and hears something that extraordinary. He convinces her to let him produce her, singing her songs but recorded around New York. Can this partnership produce beautiful music? And will they both be able to find themselves?
Carney’s film, which he also wrote, does throw you off track at the beginning. An extended scene showing us Dan’s pathetic life and how he has descended into a drunken mess, doesn’t necessarily make you instantly warm to him. Yet the skill in Carney’s story telling is that he pulls you into this world of two very different people lost in the big city and he refuses to let you go. He did exactly the same in Once. In fact, there are a great deal of similarities with that film here. A romance between two people who there never should be a romance.
All the buttons are correctly pushed her, from the character driven story to the lush locations that make New York look exactly like Dan describes it, that of a dangerous, wonderful, magical city. He hasn’t gone for the majestic like Woody Allen did in Manhattan but given us New York, warts and all (although not every wart is shown).
Then there’s the music. While nowhere near the league of Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s hugely impressive song writing talents for Once, this does manage to hold its own with a couple of beautiful and bewitching numbers, performed with heart by the cast who keep surprising us.
Keira Knightley is a revelation here. In times gone past, she has that the ability to be slightly shrill and annoying. Here she is perfect, not only making us sympathise with Greta but you just want to wrap her up in a blanket and tell her everything is going to be all right. She also proves she can sing and sing like a nightingale. You instantly believe there’s a broken woman from the first song, to the confidence of the final when they record a number on a roof. Next stop a full-blown musical? It is, without a doubt, one of her best performances.
The always reliable Mark Ruffalo goes that extra mile with Dan, showing a much darker side than we’ve seen as the unkempt, almost vagrant of a man. You really don’t like it for the first half and with the strong script behind him, Ruffalo brings out a man full of passion and a surprising lust for life that drags you along and you see a different side. Again, it’s Ruffalo at his best and proving he’s more than just a jolly green giant.
The rest of the cast is terrific: James Corden, who I usually find annoying, is excellent as Greta’s friend, Steve. Maroon 5 singer and The US Voice judge Adam Levine does a very competent job as Greta’s cheating ex, as does fellow pop star, CeeLo Green as one of Dan’s ex clients.
The real star, however, is Carney, who has delivered us an adult feel good movie that doesn’t need to be heavy on the sentimentality, instead creating a world where each of these characters you slowly grow to like become the kind of people you want to spend more time with. The ending is incredibly satisfying and you leave the cinema pleased to have been in the company of such delightful and uplifting people and with the broadest smile you will have on your face for ages. It’s not quite as good as Once but it’s pretty close.