Director: John Carney
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, James Corden, Hailee Steinfeld
Running Time: 104mins
Release Date: 11th July
With Once, John Carney managed to bottle lightning. He managed the perfect blend of charm and honesty; joy and pain; and drama and music. It was a perfectly formed, quasi-love story with fantastic understated performances from its lead cast. Throw in a beautiful soundtrack, together with Oscar winning song, and we were left with something special.
So successful Once proved for Carney, that he decided to reheat it and serve it to us again. Begin Again – perhaps Once Again would be a more fitting title – follows the same path as its predecessor, even if moving the path to New York from Dublin and having bigger names walking it might try to disguise the fact.
Dan (Ruffalo), a separated, borderline-alcoholic man who has just been fired from the record label he set up, comes across reluctant singer-songwriter Greta (Knightley) at an open-mic night and rediscovers his love for music. Greta, meanwhile, is a fish out of water in the Big Apple having been brought over by her burgeoning popstar boyfriend Dave (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) but is dropped when he hits the big time.
Dan convinces Greta that her songs belong on an album and, after a push from hip-hop artist Troublegum (Cee Lo Green), the two, together with a bunch of session musicians, set off to picturesque locations around New York to record the album out in the open. Dan and Greta grow close but Dave and Dan’s estranged wife Miriam (Keener) return to muddy the potentially romantic waters. There’s also Dan’s daughter Violet, who, cliché be damned, he struggles to relate to.
From here, the film follows the ‘love as an outlet for music/music as an outlet for love’ trope we saw in Once. You could dismiss Begin Again out of hand from this point, but if we did that every time Hollywood retreaded old ground there’d be nothing left for us to enjoy.
Begin Again, taken purely on its own merits, is an enjoyable film. It’s an upbeat, light-hearted romp through New York. The characters, too, are very engaging. Ruffalo is perfect as the grumpy everyman, while Knightley has never been more charming onscreen. James Corden (playing Greta’s friend Steve) is certainly the pick of the bunch though, stealing almost every scene he appears in. Levine is, perhaps predictably, gormless in his role – the only thing interesting about him is wondering what atrocious facial hair he will turn up with next.
The music, too, is a disappointment. Where the music in Once was vibrant and engaging, Begin Again offers little away from the middle of the road (think a blander version of Aimee Mann), and the whole idea of recording it out in the open is frankly ridiculous.
All told though, Begin Again hits that bit more than it misses. It will bring a smile to your lips, if not necessarily joy to your heart.