Begin Again (2014) – Review

Directed by John Carney
Written by John Carney
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld
A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents.

Yes, yes, I know it’s got Keira Knightley in it. Why do you think it took me this long (released in July this year in the UK) to bother watching it? The Duchess, Never Let Me Go and now this. The only films with Knightley in them that I can bear to sit through more than once. And frankly, this is by far the best of them. I’d almost go as far as to say (only almost, mind you) that she is actually likeable here in the role of Gretta, an individually talented singer-songwriter and other half to popstar Dave Kohl (played very efficiently by Maroon 5’s Adam Levine).
The star of this rom-com-drama however is not really Knightley, despite her characters’ seemingly unstoppable professional ascendancy. This notable scalp really should go to Columbo-in-waiting (yes, I’m going to mention it every time I see him in anything) Mark Ruffalo as indie record company owner who has fallen somewhat on hard times. Estranged father to Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) and ex-husband to Miriam (Catherine Keener), he is mostly unkempt and has an affinity with alcohol that is less than savoury. Inexplicably, he is fired by co-owner Mos Def because he has failed to produce (quite literally) any new talent worthy of the definition. On the very same evening, he hears Gretta playing in some backwater New York speakeasy for the very first time, and he hears something special.

Firmly indie in feel and tone, Begin Again features some outstandingly catchy songs that capture the heartbreak and strife suffered by its main protagonists and this is really where the strength of the movie lies. In a film about musicians, there is indeed some beautiful music being created. Only Guardians Of The Galaxy can really lay claim to soundtrack of the year but Begin Again, albeit entirely different in intent musically and original as opposed to cherry picked, this will push it very close indeed for those that appreciate the musical accompaniment to their favourite tales.

 

Pitching itself unashamedly at a predominantly indie audience, the feel is eclectic and almost kooky, with street smarts like its characters, with Gretta coming across as a feisty upstart with a big heart that is easily broken as evidenced by her initial wide-eyed wonder at being the silent partner introduced to a larger world, yet still with what she sees as realistic expectations. Her accidental bumping into this music producer with an, albeit pedantic, ear for a tune comes at just the right point as her relationship has withered to such an extent that she has already packed her bags, firmly intending to leave New York to return home. Seems like fate, then, that their paths would cross.

And the trick here is to convince an intelligent audience that it is just that and not overly contrived, which John Carney manages to achieve seemingly effortlessly, doubtless in part to some exquisite performances from his cast, of which even Knightley plays her part convincingly. She is outshone in the acting stakes by a superbly on form Ruffalo, though admittedly he has to work very hard to achieve that victory.

In summary, a heart-warming, often tragic story about love for one another and more importantly, the desire to write a great song. If you don’t like melodic, sometimes melancholy tunes that fit perfectly into a breezy plot that is charming and endearing, then you won’t like this one bit. I absolutely loved it, I must say, and unless something decent hits my screen before the end of my movie year, then this may well find its place into my top ten movies of 2014.

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2 comments

  1. LOL, don’t be too hard on me, I’m a sucker for a nice, emotional tale with a great soundtrack. If it did make the top ten (and I’m not saying it will) it will only just make it.

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