From John Carney, director of ‘Once’ comes another musical drama about young love in the city.
This time, it takes place in New York City and is called ‘Begin Again.’
Gretta (Keira Knightly) performs an original song at an open mic one night in New York’s East Village. She has just broken up with her unfaithful boyfriend/songwriting partner, Dave (Adam Levine) who is off to pop stardom and who wasted little time having a fling in Los Angeles.
Her song captures the intoxicated ear of Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a struggling record label executive who hasn’t found fresh new talent in a long time. He hears potential in her song and offers her a meeting with his partner. Saul (Mos Def) isn’t bowled over, so Dan has the idea that they don’t need record company money to record a demo. They decide to record an album live in various places throughout the city. After assembling a group of musicians, they set about doing just that.
Will these songs come together? Will this somehow help Gretta’s broken heart (and Dan’s failing marriage)? Is Dave completely out of Gretta’s life?
When reviewing this, it is impossible not to compare it in some ways to ‘Once.’ Compared to ‘Once’, this isn’t as jam-packed with songs. The ones that are here are a full arrangements. The only problem is that one or two of them feel very shoehorned in, especially one where Gretta leaves a four minute song/message on Dave’s voicemail. The street sessions are logical, but they aren’t as spontaneous or woven into the plot as much as the were in ‘Once’ which is sometimes annoying to this examiner in a different context, but worked very well in that story.
The idea of recording an album all throughout New York guerilla-style is a nice one. Maybe it is presented in a cloyingly sweet/idealized manner (are we to believe that five random children taken off of the street can come together and provide a backing chorus?) and it works out unrealistically well.
There are some issues of motivation that feel a little forced to propel the story along. Why would Dave play a song that would deliberately upset Gretta? Talk about an indelicate way to break up. Even before this, Gretta’s motivation to turn around and take Dan up on his offer seems abrupt. Speaking of that, sure Dan was drunk and heard a full arrangement in a visual fashion, but was Gretta’s singing and song really that good? It isn’t hard to follow, but some of the early scenes are presented non-chronologically which isn’t the most efficient way to keep things moving.
As always, Knightly is positively delightful. Ruffalo is good and Catherine Keener is fine. The problems arise with the non-actors, Levine and Cee-Lo Green. The latter has very little screen time so that’s hardly damaging but the former was clearly cast with his ability to sing the songs as the primary consideration. It is always nice to see Mos Def.
Special features include: a making of feaurette and some lyric music videos.
‘Begin Again’ is a moderately entertaining independent musical. It is very modest in scope and achievement, but it makes for a decent rental.
Rated R 104 minutes 2014