Monday 22 September 2014
FOLLOWING up on his acclaimed debut Once,
writer and director John Carney has made a sweet film with heart and soul, ably
abetted by a very good cast. With this effort, Carney has strongly monopolised
the market on ‘musicals (that are not really musicals)’.
Gretta (Keira Knightley) is invited up
onto the stage at a live gig to play one of her songs, a pleasant-enough
acoustic tune. At its conclusion, an audience member is picked out by the
camera—an enraptured (and fairly intoxicated) Dan (Mark Ruffalo). Through
flashbacks, we learn that he has had
the worst day imaginable—chewed up by his estranged daughter and fired from the
record company he co-founded, he has spent some time contemplating suicide.
Another flashback delivers Gretta’s
equally awful preamble—finding out her music writing partner and boyfriend Dave
(Adam Levine) wants to split up after he makes it big, and moving in with her
musician friend Steve (James Corden), who takes her out to the gig to fight off
Though the set-up sounds perfect for
romance, Begin Again is instead about a tight platonic friendship which
could not come at a better time for its participants. Both Knightley and
Ruffalo are formidable talents, and they have an easy chemistry that grounds
As Dan, Ruffalo is a likable schlub, who
masks his pain at his marriage troubles first with alcohol, then with burying
himself in Gretta’s music. One of his friends notes that with Dan having a bad
few months, ‘people lose sight of who he is’, and watching his redemption is
kind of charming for the audience.
Despite the obvious and occasionally
off-putting auto-tuning of her vocals, Keira Knightley is sweet and damaged as
Gretta, and the subplot with her ex-boyfriend gives her good material to engage
with. Knightley also has a very natural interaction with the talented young
actress Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Dan’s daughter. When Dan begins helping
Gretta record an album played all over New York, you genuinely want them to
succeed, because they come across as good people who have had a rough time.
They are due for a win.
The outdoor performances (under bridges,
in rowboats and so on) are consistently engaging, despite effectively being
music videos. I found myself consciously curtailing an urge to applaud
following the rooftop ditty featuring Dan’s daughter on guitar.
The songs in the film were written by a
talented bunch led by Gregg Alexander, and are good throughout the film. Their
tone often reflects the themes of the preceding scenes, and they take on a
deeper resonance, particularly the song with which Knightley opens the film.
When Dave re-enters the picture as a
repentant man who realises what he has lost, Carney’s script may be a tad too
predictable and neat. However, its warmth and gentle humour are winning, the
conclusion to the piece is fitting, and professional musician (as the lead
singer of band Maroon 5) Adam Levine’s faults as an actor fade away when his
wonderful singing is utilised to moving effect.
is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.