Begin Again (2014) Review

Begin Again is the new film from writer/director John Carney of Once (2006) fame. For those who have seen Once, you will know the importance that music pays within his narratives and Begin Again is no exception, this is more a romance where people fall in love with music than with each other which is a departure from other movies that I seen recently. Following main characters, Dan (Mark Ruffalo) and Gretta (Keira Knightley), we go on a musical journey through New York City. 

beginagain2Dan, a struggling record label owner, is drowning his sorrows in a bar when he hears Gretta singing on an open mic night and begins to hear how the arrangement would sound if he produced the melody. Offering to sign her to his label, Gretta declines as she doesn’t want to compromise her principles as an artist for fame but after joining Dan for a drink, he convinces her to reconsider his offer. Flashing back to earlier in the day we see how Dan ended up drinking in the bar as he was fired from his job after not signing a new successful artist in over seven years and then having an argument with his ex-wife Miriam played by Catherine Keener about his daughter Violet’s (Hailee Steinfield) inappropriate school clothes and his role as a father. Following Gretta’s tale, we see her travelling to New York to support her successful musician boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) before the relationship breaks down and Gretta is moping with her best-friend Steve (James
Corden) in the bar. The following day, Gretta decides to let Dan produce her music but they are forced to make the album without his label’s help when Dan’s business partner does not see her potential. Without a studio, Dan and Gretta take other talented musicians all over the city throughout the summer to record outdoors. Through the journey, Gretta get closure on her relationship with Dave when she realizes that she has different values then she thought, Dan starts to bond with his daughter when she play guitar on the record and both Gretta and Dan begin to fall in love with music again and realize what is important to them in their individual lives.

The performances by the main cast are all great with Ruffalo managing to show Dan, who is basically a mess, with sweetness and charm that allows him to seem more like a lost-soul crushed by the commercialism of music than dead-beat father and borderline alcoholic. Ruffalo always manages to stand-out in his roles and this is no exception with him popping off the screen and having great chemistry with Kinghtley’s Gretta. Knightley is convincing as Gretta showing an authentic character who is just trying to stick to her ideals and not let other change her. She always seems to provide her unique style and quirk to her roles and it fits well into singer-songwriter Gretta. I was worried about the casting of Corden, who has been irritating in some other shows that I have viewed, but here he was mellow and understated, providing moral support for Gretta and bringing a mild comedy to the role. Keener is under used but manages to steal some of the scenes that she is
in and Steinfield shows that she is maturing from child-actor to actress to follow over the next few years. Levine, in his first movie role, brings an arrogant depiction of his musician persona who is caught up in the glamour of fame.  The cast work well together and it never feels forced or laboured, with the dialogue witty and the actors all embodying their roles.

beginagain1As well as the cast, the music has a staring role, being the central ideal that all the characters revolve around. Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois co-wrote the songs for the movie and they all slot effortlessly into the flow that the story takes us on. The stand out songs being “Lost Stars”, “Coming Up Roses” and “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home” which are all amazing written and performed by the actors on screen. The contrast between how “Lost Stars” is sung by Lavine and Knightley truly provides the two-side of the coin that are trying to be portrayed. Knightley’s singing voice while not the best is light and airy but manages to pack in the emotion.

Like in Once, the leads are more kindred spirits than romantic partners, but the writing expands on the relationships that are existing and forms new bonds with all the characters. I found the writing to be realist and the characters managed to be unique and engaging without their flaws detracting from their likability, each seemed real and the interactions seem thoughtful and sincere.

Overall I really loved this movie and feel that it would be one that I would revisit lots once the Blu-ray is released. The musical elements, character portrayal and storyline all combine into a different, enjoyable romantic-comedy where everyone falls in love with the music, including me.

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