Film review: Begin Again

On Friday night, Tim and I wanted to see something light at the cinema, which for us usually means superhero action, but we decided to brave the description “rom com musical” and try Begin Again. We weren’t entirely out of our minds – writer director John Carney was behind one of our favourite films, Once, which we have watched together almost as many times as Scott Pilgrim. Almost.

It was a good decision. Begin Again is a beautiful film that charmed our socks off. “Rom com” it isn’t; I’d venture “indie musical” as an alternative description. If you’ve seen Once then you know just what to expect – in fact, the films are very similar, but this time Carney clearly had more money, though I’m willing to bet it was still small potatoes on the sliding scale of film budgets.

The story follows two people: Greta (Keira Knightley), a songwriter who moved to New York City with her musician boyfriend only to find herself single when he hit the big time; and Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a New York record producer who hasn’t produced a record in years and is estranged from his wife and daughter thanks to a drinking problem. They meet at an open mike night and decide to make a record together.

If you’re familiar with Once you’ll immediately see the similarity. There’s a great moment in this film when the characters discuss making an album in each of the world’s great cities and I immediately wondered if that is actually Carney’s plan (apparently it is). After all, Once is about making an album on a shoestring in Dublin. I think Begin Again acknowledges this similarity with a few overt references to Once, not least the scenes of James Corden busking.

Begin Again is a film about people who love music. Knightley’s voice isn’t the strongest but that wasn’t a problem for me, because it wasn’t about trying to sell her as a singing star. The key is people listening to music, creating music, really enjoying music. The human drama is relatively simple: will Dan reconnect with his daughter? will Greta be okay on her own (or rather single, as she has a good friend she lives with)? The film asks questions about record companies and music production (it is of course unashamedly on the side of the indie musician). But simplicity is the key. If you love music, New York, Keira Knightley (not so much for me, usually) and/or Mark Ruffalo (oh, yes) then I heartily recommend you check this film out.

4 thoughts on “Film review: Begin Again

  1. Susan July 21, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Oh thanks Kate for this review. I’ve been on the fence about whether to see this in the theater as the paper wasn’t too kind to it. But I liked “Once” quite a bit; I especially liked the soundtrack which I still listen to. So if it’s about enjoying music then why the heck wouldn’t I see it?! Ruffalo is fun. I’m game for it.

  2. Kate Gardner July 22, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Susan Well, exactly, why wouldn’t you?! I don’t understand the critical reaction this film. They complain that all light romantic/comedic fare is rubbish or all the same, then something good and different comes along and they get upset because they can’t easily categorise it!

  3. Susan July 26, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    Kate : Thanks for sending me to this movie with your review. I really enjoyed it. I liked “Once” and I liked this film as well. There’s a bit of what the magic of music is about in this … against a backdrop of NYC too. It’s enjoyable so screw the newspaper critics!

  4. Kate Gardner July 28, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Susan Exactly! Really glad you enjoyed it.

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