A chance encounter between a dejected music- business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan, turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents. Star turns by Mark Ruffalo, Kiera Knightley and James Cordon.
Before it was called the monumentally generic Begin Again, John Carney’s film was called Can A Song Save Your Life?, a title-cum-tagline that is a bit on the nose, a bit awkward and completely emotionally naked. It couldn’t be more apt. Following 2007’s gorgeous Once, Begin Again is Carney’s next entry into his peculiarly niche Nice People Surmount Emotional Problems By Strumming A Guitar genre, now with bigger names and better shooting stock. His New York Valentine may never hit the heady heights of his Dublin charmer, but this emerges as lovely stuff, winningly played, open-hearted and guaranteed to slap on a smile on a balmy summer night. This is more than just a step up in star wattage and budget for Carney; it’s also a step up in ambition. Whereas Once kept its focus to a guy, a girl and a hoover, Begin Again takes in not only a bigger catchment of characters but also a more tricksy structure. After the opening scene in which Mark Ruffalo’s A&R man is blindsided by watching Keira Knightley’s reluctant songwriter perform her song to a generally apathetic crowd, the movie rewinds twice, revealing the miserable day — Dan loses his record company job, Greta has split from her about-to-break-big rock singer boyfriend Dave (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) — that gifts the pair an initial connection. The relationship develops, but not in the way you’d expect. As the pair begin to work on an album incorporating the ambient sounds of the New York streets, Carney, Knightley and Ruffalo build a lovely chemistry, his crumpled hucksterism playing nicely against her bruised Britishness. This doesn’t build to a sex scene. Instead, it builds to the sharing of playlists and the recording of songs. As he showed with Once, Carney is a genius at depicting the shared joy of creating music, and in Begin Again he’s helped by a clutch of strong songs by New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander. There is uplift (Ruffalo orchestrating a song in an alley), there is heartbreak (Knightley realising a song Dave has written has been inspired by someone else), there is James Corden on a kazoo. It’s an idealised, perhaps misguided view of the modern music world that the antidote to manufactured synthetic pop is Keira Knightley with a guitar recorded with traffic going by (although as in The Edge Of Love, she proves she has a solid voice), but Carney makes a sweet, seductive argument. Away from the music, we get pulled into Dan and Greta’s personal lives — Dan’s relationship with his disconnected daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and distant wife (Catherine Keener) is more compelling than Greta’s moping after Dave — and we watch how art mysteriously, magically informs the heart. As with Once, Carney injects a nice strain of absurdist humour — watch Ruffalo wrestling with a huge painting — and there’s nice small turns from the likes of Mos Def as Dan’s record company cohort, CeeLo Green as a hip-hop artist who funds Greta’s album and performs an intentionally terrible rap, and Corden as a college mate who brightens up Greta’s life (and story arc). There’s perhaps one musical montage too many, but Carney has the assurance to let the film amble, confident its understated pleasures will get you in the end. And, if you leave your cynicism at the concessions stand, they will.
Ian Freer, EMPIRE, 20 Jun 2014
Or to put it another way: could a song end your life? Could just one number, performed weedily by Keira Knightley at the beginning of this romcom, cause your body to self-combust at the prospect of enduring 90-odd minutes of a movie obsessed with authenticity but as phoney as a Miley Cyrus dance routine? Thankfully, the answer to the question is no. But it could certainly get close. This is the story of how a washed-up record exec finds his mojo by stumbling drunkenly on a rare talent whose songs speak of love and heartache. You might think you've heard such songs before, but you haven't. These songs are better. They're called things like Lost Star and have lines like "We take a chance from time to time and put our needs out on the line". This music changes lives. Mark Ruffalo is Dan the record exec and Knightley the singer Greta (think Laura Marling, but even more home counties). She's come to New York on the arm of her boyfriend Dave Koch, also a singer, who's made it big. Greta is the real talent in the house but Dave, played by real life pop star Adam Levine, lets the fame go to his head and starts shagging around. Greta learns of his infidelity through perceptive interpretation of song lyrics and is forced to flee into the city with nothing but her dinky bicycle and her music. Oh and the friendship of James Corden. Yes, she really has fallen that low. Corden plays a Brit busker who not only appears to have avoided the need for a visa but can afford to rent a room in Manhattan despite consistently playing to audiences of none. He, like Dan, believes in the power of Greta and together they hatch a plan to get the girl a record deal by recording an album outdoors on the streets of New York. It's like punk all over again. Or like punk never happened. One of the two. Writer-director John Carney knows the record biz stuff, having been a member of Irish band the Frames. When Dan explains his studio-free recording project - "All we need is a laptop, Pro Tools and a couple of dynamic mics" - it sounds convincing enough. The musical references are right on too; everyone's a big Randy Newman fan and loves to get their Stevie Wonder on. It's only when you get to the music that's actually performed in the film that the trouble starts. All of the "artists" – be it the stars or the buskers - make the same kind of cod-poetic pop that asserts its personal authenticity but is entirely interchangeable. Ultimately the same goes for the characters. Committed artists to a man or woman, there's no real sense as to why that might be so. They're not anxious or angry, insecure or arrogant. They're just chirpy, breezy kids with a song in their heart. And for performers who care only about the art, they seem to know an awful lot about the music business too. The film's sole saving grace is, of course, Ruffalo. His very name suggests the shabbiness of his bummed out Dan, the only spot of grit in the movie. But he's also the only character to convey any semblance of actual passion, not just wide-eyed, bouncy heeled delight. He has an ugly leer and wears his self-loathing as a badge. He's worth clinging on for.
Paul MacInnes, THE GUARDIAN, 9 September 2013.
|7 (9%)||46 (56%)||20 (24%)||5 (6%)||4 (5%)|
Total Number of Responses: 82
Film Score (0-5): 3.57
Clearly the time of year had many of you in generous mood with some imbued by the mince pies and wine no doubt; others however were given to indigestion by our Christmas offering. The most often repeated phrase used in the comments was “a nice feel-good film” followed quickly with “a shame about Kiera Knightley “in one form or another. On the positive side this was augmented with “loved it; a really good film. Great music, lovely Kiera. What more would you want for Christmas?” One member “so thoroughly enjoyed this movie “that they look forward to watching it again when I manage to borrow the disc. Thank you, a great selection”. For another it was a “perfect winter warmer, light and fulfilling”. Yet another thought it “funny, smart, sad….a love story to NYC. Ruffalo a pleasure. The let’s put on a show formula reinvented for the 21st Century” contrasts with “Felt like it had been written by a drama student – full of clichés and pretentious. I am surprised that they persuaded those big names to take part”. However, the pro comments kept coming with a “very good choice for pre-Christmas, a feel good film with a good soundtrack and of course Kiera Knightley and James Cordon”; “light and untroubling like a nice Chardonnay” although it “charmed itself into my good books and had a brilliant ending in spite of the awful music”. Another told us that “after a rather slow start and agonising build up –it got there in the end as a feel-good movie but not sure Kiera Knightley was the right choice but it made it over the line”. Other comments about the casting reflected that most of you felt that “Mark Ruffalo… carried the film”. Some were “… surprised that actors of the calibre of Kiera Knightley and James Cordon were involved in this film”. But “Kiera Knightley was more like a flirty schoolgirl – unsuitable” summed up many thoughts and “although a feel-good film – it needed a different female lead with more mystique etc., not Kiera, doesn’t quite hit the spot”. This musical film had as you have already seen contrasting views about the music. “Music was not as bad as you led us to believe!!! And “a real statement about the music industry. And of course NYC”. Other comments about the film were that it was “better than I expected! A bit predictable but a charming rom com and pleasant characters. Well-acted but with fairly forgettable music”. “CHEESY – but a well needed change of tempo for this season”. “Throughout I felt this was a 3/5 but good not average. A sweet endearing film – feel-good and quite a refreshing change”. “This was an OK, sweet little film – the sort you might rent for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Not sure why it would be chosen for a film society”. “Enjoyed the storyline and some of the humorous touches. Was a bit bored during some of the music scenes”. “Rather slight and fluffy. Slightly entertaining but not great cinema”... “An evening wasted. I could have been wrapping Christmas presents or washing up!”. “Good for its target audience – but that wasn’t me”. “Less good than the average GFS offering, therefore below average. Slightly intriguing but will not live long in the memory”. “Truly awful”. “I fell asleep”.