Director: John Carney
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, James Corden, Mos Def, Cee Lo Green
I always enjoy a good movie inspired by music or when the music ends up being a driving factor of the story. It adds another dimension to the emotional arch I go through as a moviegoer. Greta (Knightley) is that kind of bashful singer/songwriter that writes great music and wants to be a performer but can’t muster up that “throw caution to the wind” type attitude needed to perform at an open mic night. Her buddy Steve (Corden) drags her up onstage after his song, and she sings one of her original pieces with her guitar. Watching from the back of the bar with a drink in his hand is Dan (Ruffalo), a music executive who internally hears a variety of instruments behind her and envisions her being the next Norah Jones.
The first portion of the film goes back and forth in the timeline of events leading up to this night. We learn more about her relationship with Dave (Levine). He is an actor and singer that has just made it big and is learning how to deal with being recognized in public. Dan is separated from his wife (Keener) and is trying to have a better relationship in their daughter (Steinfeld). When Dan and Greta meet, they are both at a crossroads with their life and career. He pleads with her to trust him and let him produce an album of hers. She reluctantly agrees, and he gathers a group of random musicians to start recording her album in various outdoor locations around New York City.
Irish director John Carney is probably best known for directing the wonderful film Once which later went on to become a Tony Award winning stage musical. With Begin Again, he is clearly working with a bigger budget and with Ruffalo, Knightly, and Levine has a broader appeal than Once did when that opened. There is a smooth and mellow vibe to all of the original music that was written for the movie by Gregg Alexander of The New Radicals. His frequent collaborator Danielle Brisebois co-wrote some of the songs with him along with Rick Nowels and Once’s Glen Hansard.
I admire any actor willing to learn how to sing or play an instrument for a part. It’s no easy feat and Keira Knightley does it justice. While she doesn’t have a big booming voice, the tone of it is perfect for this kind of music. We’re so used to seeing her in period films like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice that it’s a pleasure to see her step outside of her comfort zone. Adam Levine (Maroon 5, NBC’s The Voice) is making his big screen debut playing Knightley’s boyfriend. He was so excited to delve into acting that he apparently he did the movie for little to no pay just so he could be a part of it. He makes a smooth transition as he seems quite natural and comfortable on camera. Yes, he is playing a singer/actor so he doesn’t have to stretch his acting chops too far. Some other musicians who have attempted this have not been as successful. Musicians Mos Def and Cee Lo Green also appear in the film. Def is credited under a different name and plays the other executive at the record company Ruffalo works for. Green plays Troublegum, an artist under their label that owes his career to Ruffalo. Speaking of Ruffalo, I really admire the choices he makes in his career. I love that he alternates between big studio pictures like Marvel’s The Avengers and little indies like this one or Thanks for Sharing. He was phenomenal in HBO’s The Normal Heart which premiered back in May. It’s available on HBO Go now and will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD in August.
One of my life philosophies is that things happen in life for a reason. This story highlights that idea and about following your instincts. Our two main characters were in the right spot in the right time and let spontaneity, openness, and trust guide them to a new beginning. Begin Again has some elements of a romantic comedy as the music provides the emotional release for our characters’ feelings. However it’s not so syrupy and saccharine that you roll your eyes. It makes some smart choices that don’t fall into the standard rom com clichés. This is a great choice for a good date night movie, and you may be find yourself humming along to some of the music on the car ride home.
Is it worth your trip to the movies? It’s a feel good summer movie that is great for anyone that needs a break from some of the stupid blockbusters out there.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS