– Summary –
Director : John Carney
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Katherine Keener, Mos Def, James Corden, CeeLo Green.
Approx Running Time : 104 Minutes
Synopsis: A drunk recording executive and a recently cheated-0n singer/songwriter team up to record an album on the streets of New York City.
What we think : Effective, meandering musical drama/comedy is beguiling and sweet, even when occasionally it feels somewhat contrived. While tainted by one of the most generic film titles in recent years, Begin Again is a surprisingly good movie that is blessed by an equally good musical soundtrack.
The power of independent recording.
The Stuff: The place? New York City? The problem? Many: Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has recently been fired from his job as co-owner of a record label, while Gretta (Keira Knightley) has just been dumped by her long-term partner, singer Dave Grohl (Adam Levine, lead singer of Maroon Five) – after a chance encounter, Dan agrees to produce an album of Gretta’s material, recorded in the back-alleys and streets of New York. Gretta’s friend Steve (James Corden) and Dan’s daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) accompany them, recoding in a variety of city locations, and while Gretta balances her feelings for Dave and his philandering ways, Dan tries to find it within himself to reconcile with his ex-wife (Katherine Keener) after a bitter split.
The Kick-drum: Although you might not think it for a film featuring a bizarrely inane title – seriously, how do you market a film with such a bland appellation…. Begin Again? – this film is remarkably good. Led primarily by a terrific cast, not the least being Maroon 5’s Adam Levine in his debut acting role, and helmed with a kinda-auteurish freshness by John Carney (who wowed the world a few years back with his Irish musical film Once), Begin Again is a palette cleanser amongst the smorgasbord of blockbusting cinema invading multiplexes every other week. At times, the film bulges with a bit of Hollywood convention, an inescapable sense of “suspend your disbelief” being directed at you, and there’s a mild, pleasant sense of familiarity with a lot of the characters – Ruffalo and Knightley play fairly standard character in and of themselves, but both actors have enough screen smarts to make them feel fresh and alive within the story. Ruffalo has the lion’s share of dramatic heft to accomplish, even though the film’s prime focus leans more towards Knightley, and if anyone can play “drunk hobo” it’s Ruffalo; dude could probably do it in his sleep.
Knightley is solid as Gretta, never once taking a step back when her boyfriend of five years ruins their relationship in the name of a better career (idiot!); I liked Knightley here, all square-jaw and furrowed brow, and the role suited her. She still looks like a praying mantis wearing human skin, but she’s okay here. Adam Levine makes his big screen debut as the resident cockhead Dave, whose career is exploding with a song in a major movie catapulting him to success. Naturally, his career and his relationship aren’t two things he’s quite used to accommodating in equal measure, and his treatment of Gretta is appalling and arrogant, although he seems confused as to how he’s supposed to feel about it all. Levine is quite good, although Carney wisely keeps his emotional range to a minimum against performers like Knightley. Hailee Steinfeld provides support as Dan’s daughter, who gets along unexpectedly well with Knightley’s Gretta, while Katherine Keener, Mos Def and James Corden provide more than adequate backup in minor supporting roles.
Begin Again feels like a musical film that’s more in tune with character than the music. A terrific soundtrack of original songs (performed by both Levine and Knightley in their respective roles) accompanies a lightweight, deftly directed story about the down-n-outers, the wannabes and the nearly-made-its. There’s a love behind the camera here, a sense of effervescence that permeates the fabric of the movie and elicits more than a few chuckles from the viewer. It’s not Oscar material, but it’s pretty darn good.