BANGALORE: Hollywood musicals have always been characterised by over-the-top story lines, huge ensemble casts, fairy-tale endings, gaudy production values, and unimaginable budgets. But director John Carney turns the concept of a musical on its head and gives us this little slice of sunshine that’s Begin Again. He works the middle ground beautifully, bringing together a soul-stirring story with music that will charm the socks off you.
And John Carney knows his music. If you’re familiar with his track record, you’ll remember his 2007 film Once; a doomed love story between a busker and a flower girl, which gave us some of the best songs of the year. One of the film’s tracks Falling Slowly, won the Academy Award for best original song as well. Another one of his films, On the Edge, an Irish film starring Cillian Murphy, boasted of a soundtrack that included bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, Pixies, Doves, The Frames and more.
And music’s not the only thing that’s common to his films. Carney’s characters are always broken inside. Broken, tragically beautiful people brought together by music, by shared dreams, by shared fears, and by hope. So in Begin Again you have Gretta (Keira Knightley) and Dan (Mark Ruffalo), two people who have suffered in love and life, coming together through the simple act of making music.
Now Greta is a Brit expat who met her musician boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) at college and moves to New York City with him when he lands a major record deal. He’s soon caught up in the day-to-day life of being a rock star, and Greta is left behind to fend for herself in the big city. They soon break up after Dave cheats on faithful Greta and she’s soon all by herself for good.
While she decides to sing away her loneliness at an open mic at a random bar, Dan, an ex record label owner and alcoholic, hangs on to her every note and thinks he’s found his next star that will put his career back on track. And as these two mismatched people team up to build a record of a life time, we begin to see the healing power of music and how it can transform lives. It’s not an original story but it has been told with a sincerity and passion that’s quite rare these days.
The director himself has admitted on various occasions that he’s made huge life decisions based on the music that was playing at the time. It shows in the movies he makes. Keira Knightley stuns with her music prowess and Mark Ruffalo is a breath of fresh air, I wish he’d work in more movies. Adam Levine doesn’t disappoint either. The chemistry between Ruffalo and Catherine Keener, who plays his estranged wife, is especially palpable, and lights up the screen on more than one occasion.
The only problem with the movie is that, the songs are just not memorable enough. While almost every person who has watched Once would have walked out of the theatre humming Falling Slowly, you’d be hard pressed to remember the tune to any of the songs of the movie, save a couple.
There’s news that Carney’s working on another musical, and we’re hoping for better next time around.
Verdict: While Begin Again cannot compete against its cousin Once, it celebrates the power of music just as well.
Film: Begin Again
Director: John Carney
Actors: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener