Director: John Carney
Writer: John Carney
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Catherine Keener, Ceelo Green
Running Length: 104 minutes
Synopsis: Gretta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) are college sweethearts and songwriting partners who decamp for New York when he lands a deal with a major label. But the trappings of his new-found fame soon tempt Dave to stray, and a reeling, lovelorn Gretta is left on her own. Her world takes a turn for the better when Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a disgraced record-label exec, stumbles upon her performing on an East Village stage and is immediately captivated by her raw talent. From this chance encounter emerges an enchanting portrait of a mutually transformative collaboration, set to the soundtrack of a summer in New York City.
Review: As the old saying goes, lightning doesn’t strike twice – John Carney’s breakout indie hit, Once, was an excellent motion picture that won the hearts of many audiences and critics back in 2007, and also spawned a multi-Tony Award winning musical – and true to this, Carney’s Begin Again doesn’t manage to reach the heights that Once did. It’s essentially a variation on the same theme that Once covered, except with bigger stars and higher production values, but when evaluated on its own merits, Begin Again is still a charming enough movie, featuring some really great songs and generally authentic performances from the main cast.
It can get a little too cheesy for its own good (an example would be the music-sharing sequence), but Begin Again comes across as being a bit more genuine than the typical Hollywood romantic comedy. Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley share a good onscreen chemistry, and the “will they or won’t they” romantic tension between the two doesn’t come across as feeling too forced. However, the film suffers when the focus shifts away from this pairing – Adam Levine and Catherine Keener’s characters simply aren’t as fleshed out, and these extraneous plot threads become distracting and make the film feel a little more unfocused. The biggest offender would be the inclusion of Ceelo Green playing Ceelo Green – not only is his flashback sequence edited rather confusingly, there seems to be no good reason for his presence except perhaps to increase the celebrity count of the film.
Much like Once, the songs in Begin Again play a very important role, perhaps more so than some of the actors. And in this aspect, the film has managed to deliver in spades. Gregg Alexander (of the New Radicals and the one hit wonder “You Get What You Give”) co-wrote the songs, and many of these songs are catchy, heartfelt and (surprise surprise) decently performed by Keira Knightley. Adam Levine of course does a bang up job as well, and his rendition of Lost Stars is exemplary. The music manages to imbue even some of the more mediocre moments of Begin Again with a magical touch, and in a season filled with mega-budget action blockbusters, one could not really ask for more from a small-ish film like this one.
Rating: * * * (out of four stars)