Nov 28, 2014

Review: Begin Again (2013)

Writer/director John Carney did something really special with Once. With zero star power and an undeniable sense of authenticity, it's a beautiful film full of great music and real performances. It's clear that Carney is attempting to recapture that magic with Begin Again. The unfortunate reality is that he probably failed before he even started. You can't recapture magic just like that.

Unlike the star-less cast of Once, Begin Again is completely chockablock. Actors like Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley find themselves opposite musical talents like Adam Levine, Mos Def and CeeLo Green. I'm guessing that a big reason for that is Judd Apatow's presence as producer. While it's nice to have this level of talent, one of the themes that John Carney explores is selling out and on the surface it looks like Carney has done exactly that.

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Genre: comedy, drama, music
Directed by: John Carney
Produced by: Judd Apatow, Tobin Armbrust, Anthony Bregman, etc.
Written by: John Carney
Music by: Gregg Alexander
Running time: 104 minutes
Production company: Exclusive Media Group, Sycamore Pictures, Apatow Productions, etc.
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company, Entertainment One, Roadshow, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $8,000,000
Box office: $63,464,861 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, CeeLo Green, Mos Def, Karen Pittman, Paul Romero, Andrew Sellon, Ed Renninger, Eric Burton, Marco Assante, Mary Catherine Garrison, Jen Jacob, Rob Morrow, Jennifer Li Jackson
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Synopsis


Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is a music producer who's label is struggling to adapt to the changes in the music industry. He's married but estranged from his wife of eighteen years (Catherine Keener) and he has a daughter (Haelee Steinfeld) who he barely sees. Struggling with alcohol and finances, he's fired from his label and goes out to drown his sorrows at a bar. This is where he meets singer/songwriter Gretta James (Keira Knightley) who has just separated from her longtime boyfriend and rising star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine).

Review


John Carney treats us to the two stories of Dan Mulligan and Gretta James that end up coming together quite nicely. Told in a non-linear format at first, both stories could pretty much both be their own movie if Carney had wanted to do things that way. They're both very well weaved together though and Mulligan and James are given enough depth to make them interesting and relatable character that you wouldn't mind seeing even more of. 

Mark Ruffalo is his usual self, playing a character who is pretty negative and down on himself. Keira Knightley meanwhile shows that she can indeed sing as she also did in The Edge of Love. She's also more than just a pretty face or a weeping tragedy which is nice. Because of the nice pacing and convincing rough and tumble conversations, the coming together of both characters is nice to see and the idea of recording an album together in the streets of New York City as a tribute to that great city is a pretty cool idea.

Music is a huge part of Begin Again and the songs really are the best thing about this movie. The lyrics are quite moving and again, Knightley's voice is really nice to listen to. The rest of the soundtrack is also very nice. My one complaint of the songs performed for Begin Again would be the overly-produced sound of Keira Knightley's vocals. It's just a little bit too clear the vocals were recorded in a studio and dubbed into the movie. That's not to say that her singing isn't nice. It just takes away from what is supposed to be an authentic movie.

I'll admit that I was extremely leery when I saw Adam Levine as part of the cast. The lead vocalist of Maroon 5 just rubs me the wrong way for whatever reason even though I do think that he has some genuine talent. Who's to say that he can be an actor though? It's the same kind of scrutiny that Justin Timberlake was under as well I guess. In the end, Levine isn't too bad. He doesn't really make or break his scenes though and his biggest strength unsurprisingly is when he's singing.

Begin Again thankfully avoids becoming a standard Hollywood romance. (Spoilers) The opportunity was perfectly presented with Gretta having the chance to join her one-time lover on stage as he performs. She realizes that he's never going to change and leaves him hanging which was a pretty powerful moment. Then you're lead to believe that perhaps Gretta will get together with Dan because of their chemistry, but you'd be wrong there too. This leaves the viewer with a bittersweet ending, the kind I love. (End Spoilers)

Personally I would have left the ending as it was without adding any scenes that play during the end credits, but it's still a pretty good showing for John Carney. It's not as powerful a film as Once was, but there's no way it could've been. Begin Again is still a really pleasant film full of great music and a story that doesn't ring totally false. I know I'll be picking up the score when I can, that's how good the music is.

Rating


7/10