Director John Carney, the mastermind behind the indie, Broadway, and now West End darling Once, returns to form in his first true follow up with the charming and simple, Begin Again. The film follows the story of Dan, a broken, rough around the edges every man played expertly by Mark Ruffalo, and Keira Knightley’s Gretta, an aspiring folk singer navigating the unforgiving world of indie music after a bad break up.
When Dan loses his job at the record label he brought from the backroom of a bar to a posh, midtown success, his life begins to tear at the seams. He fails to connect with his daughter or his estranged wife, and his best friend is a bottle of bourbon. That is until he stumbles into a Greenwich Village music club, and hears the raw and approachable voice of Knightley’s Gretta.
As the two plot to record an album outside of a studio, on the streets of New York City, the film becomes a love poem to New York and it’s many lost souls fighting for their big break. Carney, who was an aspiring musician himself, doesn’t sugarcoat the struggle. The film is visually simple, there’s no flash, no pizzazz. Carney wisely lets his talented cast and finely tuned script tell the story. His directorial hand is light to the point that almost no scene in the film feels staged, an incredible accomplishment given the film’s distinction as a “musical”. Carney simply lets the camera roll, and for that we can only thank him.
The picture Carney paints of this Greenwich Village music world is one full of imperfections. This is carried out through Knightley, who can certainly carry a tune but is not the most natural songbird. Yet, her raw, approachable voice is honest, and most importantly, believably undiscovered.
What the film does so well is showing how much Gretta and Dan need each other. While Gretta has the sound and the songs, Dan has the connections and the producing talent to take Gretta’s one man band and transform it into so, so much more. But where they truly benefit from each other’s company is away from the music. Gretta is coming off a nasty breakup from newly-branded rockstar, Dave Kohl, played by Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine, admittedly, Levine is playing himself and very well in his first real film role.
On the other hand, Dan is living on his own after walking out on his cheating wife, whose actions led Dan towards the dark path we find him on at the beginning of the film. Through each other they come to realise not only what they want, but also what’s important, and Carney makes it clear that this journey may be even more important than their musical odyssey.
The film boasts some fine performances from its supporting cast. Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show replacement, James Corden, plays the loyal and lovable, Steve. Oscar nominee, Hailee Steinfeld, plays Ruffalo’s damaged daughter, and even singer Cee-Lo Green carves out a couple of nice scenes.
Begin Again is charming and approachable, just like it’s capable cast. It is subtle and light, never failing to reach or alter expectation. Most importantly, the film boasts a well-chosen soundtrack and a slew of original tracks from Knightley and Levine. If you find your foot is still tapping at films end, the DVD contains a number of music videos, accompanied by lyrics of course, for all your karaoke needs. It’s most certainly worth a watch.
Begin Again is out on Blu-Ray and DVD November 10th.