“Begin Again” – Review by Kevin Morrison

Begin Again

Review by Kevin Morrison
In a movie theater full of robots, apes and huge special effects bouncing from screen to screen during the high point of the summer season, seeing a poster just featuring two people talking to one another with a guitar case in between them was refreshing and filled my eyes up with joy. With every single film trying to be the biggest event in the world, a small film like Begin Again, which is just trying to tell its music-love story and present us with its realistic characters, is highly welcomed and, oddly enough, stands out — and does so by giving its audience just that.

Again was a film I had much been looking forward to, as I am a fan of stories involving music and relationships between people who are stuck, but I was also  excited to see John Carney continue his career. In 2007, Carney wrote and directed Once, a film that I consider to be the best musical ever made and was a movie that presented how important music is for people. I also consider it to be one of the best love relationships ever to be put on film, even though it is not a romantic one. That film came out of nowhere and showed a type of romance that had seldom been done well before then: a romance about the people that come into your life for a bit and make an important change, even if they are just there for a short period of time. Carney knew this was something to be shown. Also, I don’t know how musically talented Carney is, but even if he can’t play an instrument, he definitely understands the power of music and what it can do to people and, thankfully, both of these qualities are also shown in Again — where he also wrote some of the music and presents that along with other good aspects.

Greta, a musician played by Keira Knightly, has just come off a long relationship with a now-successful rock star-type. After being encouraged by a true friend, she is approached by Dan, a washed-up music producer played by Mark Ruffalo, who has had his own share of relationship troubles involving his family and has also lost his faith in the future of music. Dan sees Greta as a new hope for not only the future of music, but his future. Once he convinces her of submitting a demo, they begin a journey across the city recording an album to hopefully be produced as they learn to overcome problems that have plagued their lives recently through enjoying what they do.

By far the best aspect about this film was not only the original soundtrack the movie has, but the characters’ reactions to the songs either they themselves have written or they are discovering from someone else. Quite possibly the best scene I have seen all year is when Dan hears Greta’s song for the first time near the beginning of the film and starts to imagine musical accompaniments playing along with her. His mind is shown to us in a very creative way that only a movie can do, and I loved how Carney was able to think of something like that. Another aspect about that scene, as well as the other musical scenes, is the great surprise that Knightly CAN sing and she does it very well. I’m actually shocked she has never done a film before that shows her vocal skills. Well, after seeing the movie, her voice and those songs were swimming in my head, particularly “A Step You Can’t Take Back,” the opening to the film, and “Lost Stars,” a ballad of losing hope and gaining it back. The songs were something I was worried about going in, as Once’s soundtrack was entirely done by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, but thankfully Carney was able to find and create really good music without his friends. Carney helped write “A Step You Can’t Take Back” and another song, “Like a Fool,” but most of the music was composed by Gregg Alexander (of the 90s band New Radicals). I have always loved the one album New Radicals produced, and to see him compose more music for a Carney-like environment and continue as an artist was a real pleasure. I have already bought the soundtrack and look forward to reliving this experience through these songs.

The story is also told very well. This is the type of film I love: where two people meet each other and start to help each other, even though they never start a sexual relationship with each other. Such films like this are Lost in Translation and Once. These films show that love can be experienced through other ways and some people can affect you in ways that are not traditional, but probably just as important. The partnership between Dan and Greta was very sweet and felt very real. It is a real joy to see them compose music together throughout the city, as well as to see them help each other out; Dan helping Greta get over her previous boyfriend, and Greta helping Dan develop a stronger relationship with his family. While this can get predictable at times, I never really minded that. I loved the journey these two went through and to see them reclaim their love of music and their lives was something that I enjoyed watching. Greta was a fine character that many can relate to and Dan was really interesting and complex. The film does a good job of making you think one thing about him, almost like an anti-hero, but then lets you naturally think another thing as you learn more about him. Your mind becomes open to these two as the story flows.

Also, being a New York City resident, I loved how their journey took them across the city. Seeing them record their album among many small NYC locations, such as subway stations, the Washington Square Arch, and Union Square Park was really well done. They presented the city beautifully and showcased perfectly what I love about living there.
The supporting characters in the film are also good as well, though not as developed. Adam Levine, from Maroon 5, plays Greta’s ex, Dave Kohl. Not surprisingly, he does a good job playing a famous singer. Seeing his relationship with Greta before their break-up worked, and Levine does a good job of playing someone who knows he screwed up big time. Levine also did this movie for free because he wanted to and I give him a ton of credit for that. That was awesome of him to do and he worked well in the film. Another good aspect is Hailee Steinfeld as Dan’s daughter, Violet. I have not seen Steinfeld in anything since 2010’s True Grit, where she blew me away wither her performance, so I am glad her career is continuing and she does a good job here with the small role she was given. I also remember James Corden as Greta’s close friend, Steve. He is not on screen as much as the previous characters stated, but he was a fun character to watch and to see interact with Greta. Cee Lo Green is also in the movie, but he does stick out like a sore thumb. I don’t really remember his character’s name, I just felt like I was watching Cee Lo Green, which isn’t bad per say, but it did take me out of the movie’s world a bit.

The only negative aspects I have with this movie are minor to me, but may be problems for other people. As I have said, the story does get predictable, but it’s told very well. However, because of that, it does not quite have the refreshing feel that Once did, nor does it feel as powerful and grand as that simple and splendid film did. Again is not a movie that will blow you away, but it is a simple, well made film from someone trying to tell his story, and he does it successfully. After sitting through many films that try to be huge and the best movie ever, it was nice to see a film simply about people, music, and a combination between the two. I would definitely recommend seeing this if you are interested, especially if you are a fan of Once or films of this kind. While probably not one of the greatest movies ever, this is definitely a good one that so far is a favorite of mine for this year.

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