By Alexia Evripidou
Begin Again is a charming and cozy musical drama. Arguably it’s an unconventional musical love story that to some extent addresses the complexities of life and love. Where love in this context is explored through troubled relationships: man/female friendships, father/daughter, self love and a sort of ‘bromance’.
John Carney’s latest film is ultimately a sensitive and honest story about lost souls meeting and helping each other via music to the other side of their troubles. Although, it is a little long and slow and I seemed to appreciate it more after I left the film. However, the sound track is charming and very ‘feel good’.
Gretta (Keira Knightley) is a sweet, down to earth but headstrong singer/song writer who follows her songwriting partner/lover Dave (Adam Levine) to New York when he lands a record deal with a major label. They are given a ridiculously cool apartment with a swing and table tennis table in the living room!
However, as Dave’s music takes off, the stardom goes to his head and chin – though not a driving plot factor, the facial hair is amusing. There is a funny and sweet scene where Gretta and her friend Steve (James Corden) get drunk and have a laugh over the furry fiend growing out of Dave’s chin. The beard is also symbolic, showing Dave’s transformation from sweet guy to ‘douche bag’, one who Gretta realises she no longer knows, if she ever did.
Gretta finds herself alone when Dave gives in to the temptations that come with his newfound success. Trying to cheer her up, Steve convinces her to go out gigging with him and forces her to perform her song. Things take an unusual turn when she bumps into the very talented Mark Ruffalo (Dan), a disgraced music-business executive, and a mutually life-changing bond forms between the pair that turns into a promising collaboration and a first album for Gretta.
Meanwhile, Dan’s taken a blow in his career, is estranged from his wife and distant from his 14-year-old daughter. Just when he thought he’d hit rock bottom, he witnesses Gretta’s reluctant performance and his creative juices take over. His music business partner doesn’t see the potential in Gretta’s music, but Dan has the ability of building up songs in his head, especially when he’s had a tipple or two. And so, without financial funding, they enlist the help of out of work musicians, CeeLo Green (who still believes in Dan), students and anyone else who will work for free. Together they set out to produce an outdoors album, meaning recording in streets and on top of high rises in New York as opposed to a studio. “The city is our studio,” encourages Dan.
Apparently Keira did her own vocals, for which I am impressed, as her voice suits the style of songs her character sings. Although I’m not convinced by the acting skills, Keira excels at playing Keira. Her emotional ability as an actress seems to be there, yet it gets translated into squished and unusual facial gestures. Still, there was a quirky chemistry between the two leads that worked nicely. Mark, on the other hand, offered a great all-round performance as the lovable down and out lost soul.
Levine did fine in depicting a self absorbed musician (I’ll let you work that one out) and Corden, made a refreshing comedic break from the wows of modern relationship troubles. The cast as a whole were well chosen and the acting was nicely performed, allowing the viewer to enjoy the story line, with its subtle twists and turns. In fact, the thing that I enjoyed most about Begin Again was its subtlety and that it was not a love story, it’s more of a friendship story between a man and a woman, which is something we rarely see in films.
Begin Again seems to reject the easy romantic traps. There is a lovely side line story line of Dan and his estranged wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) addressing issues of what can happen when a couple have been together for many years. There’s something nice about the film over all because there’s a level of reality to it in the performances and in the situations. If nice, cozy and an unconventional non romantic love film is your thing, and then it’s definitely worth the watch. My main complaint is that it’s a little too long, and dare I say Keira Knightly is in it, other than that sit back and enjoy the slow paced, low key comforting show.
DIRECTED BY John Carney
STARRING Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, James Corden
USA 2014 104mins