By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Any film that expresses a love for music and song has already scored some points with me. This particular film, which stars Mark Ruffalo as a washed-up record producer and Keira Knightley as one of his new discoveries, wears it love for music and lyrics on its sleeve. Though the film gets a bit too saccharine at times, it is difficult not to feel some warmth of heart when writer/director John Carney has so much love for the material and his characters. With talented actors like Ruffalo and Knightley in the lead roles, this makes the slightly contrived story feel more genuine.
Ruffalo portrays Dan Mulligan, once a record wunderkind who started an indie record label with his business partner Saul (Mos Def). Mulligan now has fallen on harder times, no thanks to alcoholism. While drowning his sorrows after losing his business, he discovers singer/songwriter Greta (Knightley) who very reluctantly agrees to record an album with him. Recently heartbroken and lost, Greta has never had any intention to pursue a music career. This new opportunity provides both Dan and Greta with the chance to pick themselves up and start anew. They discover that they both share a passion and chemistry for song, and their relationship helps get them back on track.
Written and directed by John Carney, the writer/director of the film Once, Begin Again is a delightfully sweet film with mostly lovable characters and an impressive soundtrack. The film features some fine tunes performed beautifully by Keira Knightley and Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, who also stars as Greta’s ex-boyfriend Dave Kohl. As I stated above the film does get a bit saccharine at times and the whole story feels a bit contrived. The conflicts in the film range from weak to genuinely strong and make the entire film feel rather benign. Carney and Yaron Orback do show that they can shoot musical scenes well and editor Andrew Marcus skillfully pieces these sequences together. While experiencing this film, there is no doubt that Carney and crew have technical skills in filmmaking, and Carney’s love for music is crystal clear. The story and plot feel like weak excuses for musical sequences, though. The story plays out rather transparently and predictably.
One thing I had not predicted was how much I would enjoy Keira Knightley’s irresistible vocals. Seriously, who knew the already talented actress could carry a tune? Her acting in the film also deserves praise. Both she and Mark Ruffalo share a lovely onscreen chemistry. They genuinely appear to be making beautiful music together. Ruffalo delivers a solid and credible performance as an ingenious music producer struggling to rebound from his life’s struggles. The film also features fine performances by Hailee Steinfeld who plays Dan’s daughter Violet, James Corden who portrays Greta’s best friend Steve, and Adam Levine who stars as the douchey ex-boyfriend Dave.
While the movie doesn’t have anything strikingly brilliant to offer its audience, Begin Again is still highly enjoyable nonetheless. For the music and performances of its leads, I’d recommend catching this film as a matinee or making it a future rental. If the soundtrack is available for sale, I must strongly recommend purchasing it. The songs are immensely infectious and lovable.