John Carney has done it again. What? You don’t recognize that name? Don’t feel bad. I didn’t recognize the name either, but “once” I did, I saw why I loved his new film “Begin Again” so much. He is also responsible for the brilliantly written and musically rich film “Once” that went on to be a live musical stage production. “Begin Again” continues along the same astounding musical pathway to entertain, captivate, and satisfy all who watch and listen. The unusual pairing of Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo bring life and love to Carney’s new words and vision.
Gretta (Knightley) is a bitter and angry transplanted Brit, living in NYC with some obvious musical talents. As she sits on the couch of a dive bar listening to her friend demonstrate his not-so-talented musical skills, she is cajoled into performing an original song with a Nora Jones overtone. Surprisingly, there’s only one other person in the room who seems to be aware of this raw talent—Dan (Ruffalo), the rather drunken, hapless looking bum who is spellbound. Quickly, the film changes gears and gives us the needed information of what happened earlier in the day to bring both of our lead actors to the point at which we are currently seeing them. You see, they both have baggage. They both have hit their own rock bottom and are looking to escape in one way or another.
The story captures you from the opening scene. Overall, Dan and Gretta’s stories are quite similar, yet separated by youth and middle age. Dan and his wife have issues and are separated and Dan seems disconnected from his teenage rebellious daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Gretta skipped happily across the ocean from the UK with her boyfriend only to have love issues envelop her; suffocating her to a point of almost no return. But together, Dan and Gretta find hope in one another. With Dan’s past skills in running a record label and Gretta’s raw talent, they work together to find themselves and help each other.
Dan and Gretta are familiar characters as we can all relate to many of their situations and feelings. But there’s a refreshing aspect to this story as there are no good guys or bad guys: it’s just about life. In any life there is sadness, anger, love, and occasional triumph and humor. The multiple story layers in this film give it complexity without confusion. Each character is completely developed so that you understand their decisions and thought processes.
Mark Ruffalo, continues to amaze me with his more daring and risky roles. “The Kids Are Alright,” the upcoming “Infinitely Polar Bear” and now “Begin Again” truly highlight his rich acting skills. Kiera Knightley is also so much more than a pretty face and the counterpart to Johnny Depp’s pirate. She shows heart and depth, not to mention an extraordinary singing voice! And who knew Maroon 5’s Adam Levine had acting talent as well as exceptional vocal chords. Steinfeld has played the rebellious teen daughter in other recent films (“3 Days to Kill), but this film is the calibre that suits her best. The remainder of the cast perfectly augments Dan and Gretta so there is absolutely no dischord in the harmony of this film. That phrase brings me to the music. Wow! Rarely am I truly pulled in to feel the music in a film. With each and every original song, there is pure emotional delight. Using songs from many generations, songs such as Dooley Wilson’s “As Time Goes By” and Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be A Lady Tonight,” among many others, NYC was painted in a beautiful light. You will absolultely lose yourself in every song, original and familiar.
“Begin Again” is a winner on all fronts. The writing and directing of an initially non-linear story, is beautifully poetic and lyrical. When you combine stunning original music, NYC as a backdrop, and an engaging and complex story, the film not only stands out, it enthralls you. It’s a different kind of love story; it’s a love of life, relationships, and learning from our past mistakes. It’s the best kind of love story.
This film is suited for all ages (older teens and on up) and both genders. It will definitely appeal to music lovers and make music lovers out of the rest of us. This is the first film I didn’t want to end. It could have been a 3 hour movie and I’d have been happy. It’s also a film whose soundtrack I will be purchasing. Maybe for a buck. See the movie and you’ll understand that last sentence!