From John Carney, the writer and director who brought us the musically beautiful Once, comes Begin Again, another exploration into the lives of little-known singer/songwriters, this time in the dynamic hub that is New York City. Mark Ruffalo stars as Dan, a down-and-out music executive whose alcoholism and belief in truly original music has lost him his job. Enter Keira Knightly as the young, beautiful and hugely talented Gretta, a songwriter from England who has followed her now ex-boyfriend and emerging pop-star Dave (Adam Levine) to New York. After she is dragged up on stage in a small, underground bar by her friend and roommate Steve (James Corden), and Dan hears her sing, he is blown away by the understated beauty of her music. He immediately attempts to sign her to his label in an effort to get his job back and help Gretta get the renown she deserves.
But without a studio at their disposal, the pair come up with the plan to record her album live in various spots across New York City: apartment roofs, in the subway, on paddle boats in central park. With a band of musicians and the sounds of the city as their muse, the duo produce some incredible music together, and their relationship grows stronger. Gretta tries to help build the connection between Dan and the wife and daughter he rarely sees, while Dan helps Gretta realise her own talent and potential.
This is a really lovely film that will have you down with a serious case of the warm-and-fuzzies. Similar to Once, but a little more Hollywood-ised, Begin Again is accessible to the masses while still having heart and a proper cast of actors. Mark Ruffalo makes a surprisingly good drunkard (leaving me to speculate whether he was actually inebriated during filming), while Keira Knightly brings warmth to her character, with an unexpectedly lovely singing voice to boot. The real shock was Adam Levine, who has little acting experience beyond a few episodes of American Horror Story, but that didn’t even matter because his performance was seamless. I also enjoyed the way the movie was edited, which played with the sequence of events without being too confusing or hard to follow.
Hands down the best part of this film is the soundtrack. While it irks me that the filmmakers too obviously overlay a pre-recorded track on what is supposed to be ‘live singing’ in the film, the actual songs are beautiful, written mainly by Gregg Alexander and a host of other songwriters. Keira Knightly holds her own when singing, but it really solidified my admiration of Adam Levine, who has crazy control over his vocal range. The scenes in which the musicians are putting together the music, often making it up as they go along, are kind of unrealistic, but at the same time hugely enjoyable to watch.
I think the point is not to read too seriously into this movie, because that’s when you start to see the flaws. But as a lighthearted romantic comedy, it really does the trick. It’s a little formulaic, and it has a pretty ‘Hollywood’ ending, but Begin Again is perfect for warming the cockles of the heart on a rainy day.\
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