When a washed up music executive and a lonely singer-songwriter have a chance encounter at a New York bar, the creation of music is the inevitable outcome. Begin Again is reviewed after the jump.
Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has been better. He’s estranged from his wife (played by Catherine Keener), has a strained relationship with his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) and the record label he co-founded is moving in a different direction from him, so much so that they’ve just fired him. Drinking away his sorrows, Dan stumbles into a bar just in time to see Gretta (Keira Knightley) take the stage. She’s also had a bad day. She’s broken up with her about to be super famous boyfriend Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) and is heading back to England alone. That is until Dan sees her performance. In her he sees true musical talent and he wants them to make music together. The two don’t have money, but they have talent and Dan has connections. Thus, they set out to make an album on the streets of NYC.
Begin Again is delightful. For me, this was a the toe-tapping, sweet and extremely likable pick-me-up that my week needed. Had I seen this film on a different day I might not have liked it so much, but on a day when I was tired and feeling a little blue, this film was perfect. It starts with the music, which is certainly pleasant to listen to and I’ve enjoyed listening to the soundtrack since. This music won’t win any awards, but it’s catchy and you can hear the Gretta’s heart in it. While the “New York City as a character” trope is rather tired, I thought recording the album on the streets was interesting and they didn’t overplay the importance of the “NYC vibe” too much. The audience gets to see the city and watching Dan pull the sound together was really something.
Ruffalo plays the ragamuffin character so well. Dan isn’t supposed to be likable, he’s the type of guy that constantly lets down the people who love him. However, he knows music and it’s here he excels, not everyday life. Keira Knightley is very personable as Gretta and I liked that the character has her own musical integrity and wasn’t just a rocker’s airhead girlfriend. Steinfeld was also good as Dan’s daughter, and the scene where she plays with the band is one of the film’s nicest moments.
Begin Again isn’t a deep film. It doesn’t have a strong emotional core like Carney’s 2006 film Once and the characters don’t exactly go through a life-altering change while making the music. However, it warmed my heart and it made me smile, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
By Sam McCosh
Director: John Carney
Writer(s): John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld
Runtime: 104 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: August 7 2014