Thursday, 7 August 2014
FILM REVIEW: BEGIN AGAIN
Can a song save your life? Perhaps, at the right time and place. It certainly provides a lifebuoy for flailing record producer and A&R man, Dan (Mark Ruffalo), who is having a very bad day when he stumbles into a New York bar and into the audience of an impromptu performance by Gretta (Keira Knightley). Her sugary/folksy vocals on a self-penned song about suicide-by-subway has Dan seeing a star -- not to mention player-less instruments springing to life -- in the making.
But Gretta's not looking to be discovered. She's actually booked a return flight to London the next day, heartbroken after the collapse of her relationship with boyfriend and songwriting partner, Dave (Maroon 5's Adam Levine), whose career has skyrocketed following the inclusion of one of his compositions on a hit film's soundtrack.
That may be a sly nod to writer-director John Carney's most famous film Once, the glorious little Irish indie which won hearts and an Oscar for Best Original Song in 2007. Begin Again (originally titled Can A Song Save Your Life?) is no Once (my favourite film of 2007), but like his more famous film, Carney has produced a charming, sweet and unaffected tale of two souls brought together by, and healed and redeemed through the power of music.
Replacing actual musicians (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) with Hollywood A-listers may lose some of the authenticity of the Dublin-set musical, but Begin Again is no less winning as Gretta and Dan, and a bunch of fellow musicians, including Gretta's fellow ex-pat, Steve (James Corden), record an album of original tracks (Knightley performs all her own singing with the songs penned by Gregg Alexander) on the streets of New York over the course of a week or so during the summer; Yaron Orbach's camera capturing a picture-perfect if not-so touristy Big Apple.
Ruffalo, looking homeless but exuding charm, and Knightley, refreshingly corset-free and as lovely as she's ever been, have an easy chemistry and there's a constant 'will they, won't they' tension between the two throughout the film; their attraction kept at bay by the work at hand and their emotional realities: Dan wants to make amends with his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) and his adolescent daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), while Gretta debates herself about reconciliatory gestures from Dave.
The ending may not be as bitter-sweet and note-perfect as Once but John Carney ensures Begin Again ends on the right note. Like the most effective pop music, it works its way in and leaves you with a smile on your face and a skip in your step.