In 2007, writer/director John Carney’s Once had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the World Cinema Audience Award in the Dramatic category. While there are some familiar elements in his latest film, Begin Again, it is a different movie.
Begin Again is the story of “Greta” (Kiera Knightley), “Dave Kohl” (Adam Levine) and “Dan Mulligan” (Mark Ruffalo). Greta and Dave have come to New York City because a record label has signed Dave. He refers to Greta as his partner, and they have written music together for some time. Greta is also a singer. The label provides everything they need, including an apartment and for Dave, someone who tempts him to stray. This brings their romance to a bad ending.
She seeks solace from her longtime friend “Steve” (James Corden) who came to New York and now ekes out a living as a busker. He moves her into his apartment and takes her to a club where he’s performing. Since it is open microphone night, he pushes her into singing one of her songs.
Her performance catches the eye of Dan, who is in the midst of a meltdown. He and his wife “Miriam” (Catherine Keener) are separated, he doesn’t spend nearly enough time with his daughter “Violet” (Hailee Steinfield) and his long-time partner in the record label he founded, “Saul” just fired him. But the moment he hears Greta singing on stage, his meltdown is ending. He once again has that magic touch to turn someone’s song into a major hit.
Aside from being a “nowhere to success” type of film, Begin Again explores complex interpersonal relationships with a mixture of comedy and drama that works quite nicely. We don’t learn why Dan and his wife separated until we are into the third act, but this is actually an excellent choice by Mr. Carney.
He tries to talk Saul into funding a demo for Greta but that doesn’t go well. In desperation, he decides they will make a “guerilla recording” of her songs and gets his old friend “Trouble Gum” (CeeLo Green) to pay for the musicians needed for the recording. Of course, Steve is involved in the album’s production. Greta gives Violet some good advice and they bond a little, while Dan tries to resolve his unresolved situation with Miriam. Meanwhile, Dave decides he must have Greta back just as his first album with the label drops, making him a star. Greta has some big decisions to make.
Keira Knightley once said that auditioning for Phantom of the Opera was embarrassing because she knew she couldn’t sing the role of “Christine” (Emmy Rossum got the part). However, her pipes are more than up for the task of singing the songs Greta writes and sings in this film. She sounds wonderful. And much like Once, the music really enhances the movie. This is a dream cast considering what great actors Knightley, Ruffalo and Steinfield are. Adam Levine does a nice job and Catherine Keener is underutilized. See the film and pick up the soundtrack. Both are well worth it.