At its simplest, Begin Again – directed by John Carney and starring Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley – is a celebration of music.
But as the film shows, even something simple can be beautiful, like an acoustic ballad. And although held back mildly by a middle act which leaves a tad more to be desired, Begin Again takes that message to heart with believable performances and heartfelt and heartbreaking tunes which do a good job telling the story on their own.
Ruffalo plays Dan, an out-of-his-prime music executive who is searching for authenticity in a New York music scene that is being fueled more and more by money. It becomes quickly apparent, as these stories usually go, that he hasn’t put as much effort into his family as he should, but rather is focusing on his job too much to no avail.
Enter heartbroken songwriter Gretta, played by Keira Knightley, who doesn’t aspire of stardom. Her sole desires were to help spark hubby Dave Kohl’s career in the music biz…until he began showing signs that the his new lifestyle isn’t up to par with her.
Dan hears Gretta play at a chance encounter that is much like a different kind of love at first sight, and the two embark on creating a wholly unique album together.
Don’t be mistaken, this is a story reminiscent of many we’ve seen before, but the way Carney focuses on the music and songs – more specifically, the stories behind the songs – is where he gets off. Begin Again teaches a lot about music and the many things it is. It is a remedy and a poison. It is all encompassing and intimate. It is diverse and it is unifying. And the best, most relatable songs are the ones with emotional backstories.
Diehard music geeks, especially of the acoustic indie variety, will have an absolute ball with Begin Again. Where the average person will see a large portion of the film, in which the album is being made, as repetitive and middling, musicians will be able to relate to the intimacy of the process of producing music, and how it affects those involved. Begin Again is astutely aware of its priorities; to show how music can be cheerful even when it’s sad. Some moviegoers will understand that better than others, and that’s okay.
Ruffalo (Now You See Me, The Avengers) is superb in his role. Always engaged, lively and believable, his joy at finding real music is easy to see, as is the pain when talking about his past. Ruffalo also shows to have some great timing with comedic deliveries, and doesn’t have to be saying a word to show he is one of the more underrated actors in Hollywood today. Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, Atonement) also puts in a memorable performance as a young Nora Jones-type singing of lost love and various other melancholy themes. Who knew she could sing?!
In the supporting cast, Adam Levine, who knows a little something about the music industry, makes his big screen debut as a rockstar who has his priorities jumbled. He’s right in his natural habitat as Dave Kohl, at least when he’s singing. In the more human parts that require him to actually act, he’s relatively stiff as cardboard, never really one who we particularly want to be together with Gretta. Cee Lo Green and Mos Def have appearances in the movie that are much more memorable than Levine’s extended cameo.
Where Begin Again succeeds is exemplified by its third act and ultimate ending. It isn’t overly done as some movies these days choose to go; Carney knows that too much of a good thing doesn’t always work. The ending doesn’t succumb to predictability, and it’s humble and intimate. It’s simple, and it works to great effect.
In a Nutshell
Led by strong lead performances of both the acting and musical variety, Begin Again explores the essence and strength of music to elevate itself above the regular clichés.
8.0 / 10 or Worth your time and money in a Summer of loud blockbusters, and you even get a couple new tunes to check out!
Begin Again is rated R for language
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine
Directed by: John Carney