If you loved Once, then see Begin Again. Mark Ruffalo has never been better, Keira Knightley stretches an admired reputation, and you will discover the acting talents of both Adam Levine and James Corden.
Begin Again is a cinematic diamond in the rough over an otherwise dismal July 4th movie weekend. Working in the weeds while surrounded by the slipshod approach of Tammy and the Transformers “Forever” films, Begin Again is an extraordinarily engaging, not to mention very romantic film. Director John Carney displayed his magic touch in Once (2006), and the strengths of that tiny film are found here.
The cast was phenomenal in every respect, and the film is an appealing drama/comedy laced with some tremendous music. It’s tough to imagine a better cast in any film to be released this year.
In short, we see Dave and Greta arrive in New York from England to pursue a record contract. Adam Levine plays Dave while Keira Knightley plays Greta, and their love affair matches their musical abilities. As for young Mr. Levine, the lead singer for Maroon 5, he matches the acting talents displayed by Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club.
Unfortunately, quick fame has its costs, and Greta takes a hike on learning of Dave’s transgressions. In the process, she meets Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a depressed, drunken ex-recording executive who excels at embracing his lost past. On the outs with his ex-wife, Miriam (the accomplished Catherine Keener), and his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), he appears headed for disaster until he inadvertently hears Ms. Knightley reluctantly sing at a local bar.
The movie takes off like a rocket ship from that point with both Greta and Dan feigning off depression while they put an engaging rock group together to record an album on the streets of New York. The songs are at times magical, and any criticism of Begin Again as being a retread of Once is woefully undeserved.
As an example, the scene of Ms. Knightley initially singing in the bar as Ruffalo watches is repeated from several different angles. In one, you see a drunken Ruffalo entranced as he imagines unused instruments, lying on stage, playing without human help to provide an important back-up band for Ms. Knightley. Ruffalo smiles as he rediscovers his strength and you will smile with him.
In addition, there is a recording session on a New York street where Mr. Ruffalo’s angry daughter reluctantly joins as a guitarist and several neighborhood kids are asked to sing as back-ups. The song itself is a knockout, and these two scenes represent the vocal and visual genius of Director/Writer Carney, They contribute to make the film unforgettable.
There are some other wonderful supporting roles, the most notable being those provided by James Corden and Mos Def. Mr. Corden plays Steve, an old friend of Greta that he befriends. He is wonderfully funny at every turn. As for Mr. Def, he fills a critical void as Mr. Ruffalo’s old boss/partner who was forced to fire him. Despite his anger, his affection for Ruffalo is never lost, and you know that he will be around the corner to lend a helping hand.
As for Ms. Knightley, a beautiful and intelligent actress, she also proves to be an excellent singer. On top of that, she may be the only actress working in film today who has the nerve to not be embarrassed by imperfect teeth. It makes me love her all the more.
Regardless, do yourself a favor and get to this movie as soon as possible. I suspect that most of you will respond, “Lord, I was stunned by how much I loved it.”