A sleeper like Once
would be a tough act for anyone to follow, but writer-director John Carney’s
new musical drama Begin Again stands
nicely on its own. It may not feel quite as organic as the 2006 picture that
put Carney on the map, but it has a fine cast, good music, and an abundance of
Keira Knightley plays a talented songwriter who has
accompanied her boyfriend (Adam Levine) to New York City, where a hit movie soundtrack
has launched him on the road to success. Their relationship turns rocky once
his career takes off and she winds up singing a song inspired by her heartbreak
in a club one night. Down-and-out music producer Mark Ruffalo happens to hear
her and becomes convinced that he can make her a star. What’s more, backing her
career just might prove to be his salvation.
Boiled down to a synopsis, Begin Again might not sound terribly original, but Carney has fleshed
out his story with wonderful songs and made exceptional use of the City, from rooftops
and alleyways to a subway station. The best scenes in the film have an
impromptu feel that’s hard to resist. Carney has elicited spontaneous
performances from an experienced cast—just as he did with the nonprofessional
stars of Once—and has chosen his
Knightley is an ideal heroine, thoroughly likable and
completely credible as a songwriter who cares more about the integrity of her
music than she does about fame. (P.S. She sings quite nicely.) Levine, of
Maroon 5 fame, also fares well in his first major acting assignment. Ruffalo
hits all the right notes as a onetime golden boy of the music business whose
life is a mess. There is an innate likability to him that has us rooting for
him to succeed, as a father, husband, and producer. Hailee Steinfeld is
excellent as his teenage daughter, and Catherine Keener lends able support as
his ex-wife. Other parts are neatly filled by James Corden, CeeLo Green, and
Yasiin Bey (also known as Mos Def).
Music producer Gregg Alexander deserves special mention for
commissioning and recording songs that blend seamlessly into the storyline and help define their characters.
it’s not a conventional musical, Begin
Again made me feel good, just as those old movie musicals used to do. What
more could one ask of a film?