Begin Again

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Release: Friday, June 27, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

A disgraced record label executive has a chance run-in with a down-on-her-luck musician at a bar and the two forge a friendship that inspires more than great music — it reinvigorates one another’s thirst for life.

The Hulk takes a chill pill as Mark Ruffalo fits himself back into a decidedly more human outfit in John Carney’s musical romantic-comedy Begin Again. Instead of wreaking havoc on everything around him in a physical manner, Dan’s going about the same by butting heads with top execs at the label he started up years ago. His idealistic approach to talent management and discovery is viewed as a product of a bygone era in this company and it puts him at odds with the future of the label. His life quickly unravels.

The film’s secondary focus is Keira Knightley’s emotionally fragile yet three-dimensional Gretta, a guitarist from England whose longtime boyfriend is finding massive popularity in America, particularly in Los Angeles. Begin Again spends much of its second act detailing the spiraling downward of this at-once mesmeric and repulsively stagnant relationship between two musicians struggling to find themselves. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine juggles being Knightley’s heart throb and heart ache impressively as Dave, a man whose artistic integrity as well as devotion to Gretta slowly disintegrates as his star brightens.

Gretta, on the other hand, refuses to bend in the wind. Her firm grasp on her own creative control rings more authentic than manipulative; the choice more a microcosm of an entire population of aspiring artists or even successful ones who have remained true to their roots. So it’s no surprise when she becomes embroiled in drunken conversation with a man who claims to be a formerly successful record producer (yeah, this Dan guy) that we can almost feel it as the stranger smacks straight into the brick wall that is Gretta’s defense mechanism in the face of this awkward business proposition. She claims she is no performer; rather, she creates music at will.

Despite her biting tone, her discomfort seems to stem less from Dan’s crash-landing in her life as it does from being in the present moment. Her very existence here in this spot is the problem. Owed mostly to the ingenuity of the way Carney has constructed this tale, her backstory is explained and introduced in a wholly satisfying way, one that provides the bar scene a greater depth that’s often missing in these ‘when boy-meets-girl’ encounters.

Along with a pair of wonderful lead performances (Ruffalo and Knightley share the kind of chemistry that’s seemingly only developed over many a season of working together) Begin Again also distinguishes itself by not settling for the typical rom-com story arc. It certainly follows structure, but whereas most tend to fail as far as providing surprises is concerned, this little slice of life as a musician in the big city has some wiggle room in terms of deviating from the norm. An unconventional dynamic between the musician and record producer is largely responsible for this. Sidelined for much of the running time is Dan’s estranged daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) and wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) who work their way onto the fringe as Dan attempts to pull his life back together.

Indeed, Dan and Gretta may be down but not down for the count. Inspired by the sound Gretta was able to produce with an acoustic guitar and just her voice — yes, that bit from the previews is every bit as charming in the film, especially since it’s prolonged — Dan starts coming up with ideas about what to do next with his career. Will the chance run-in with this talent be enough to turn things around in his life or has he back-peddled too far?

The exploration of the soul through the prism of music is not particularly inventive, but when done right it is rewarding. Doubly so when the music and the story against which its set as a backdrop are both high in quality. Now and again Begin Again contains a few music video-esque sequences (look to the songs ‘Coming Up Roses’ and ‘Tell Me if You Wanna Go Home’) that seem to heighten both the visual and audio senses. It’s a unique sensory experience that seems to verify Carney’s talents as a genre director. Many will say his 2006 production Once is the superior film to this, considering the thematic and tonal similarities each share. It may be a lesser film but there is no denying the feel-good vibes. These are the kinds of films we can’t really tire of.

At least, not quite as quickly.

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3-5

Recommendation: Featuring a plethora of good songs and talented performers to back up these songs, Begin Again offers an interesting cinematic experience that succeeds in pleasing genre fans, Ruffalo fans, Knightley fans and fans of rich acoustic melodies. Though not always the most original tale, Carney’s drama often overcomes through sheer likability.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “I’m not a performer, I just write songs from time to time.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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22 thoughts on “Begin Again

  1. Pingback: The 2014 DigiBread Awards | digitalshortbread

  2. I love your last line and that’s enough to sell me on it. It really did look interesting. I like the cast and I’m often a sucker for these types of flicks.

    • Thanks friend, it’s true. I love feel-goods as much as the next person but they can often be extremely formulaic. . .predictable. This went a slightly different route and I think we as an audience really reap those rewards. Plus the soundtrack is just awesome. 🙂

    • Thanks buddy, I’m sure you’ll find a similar amount of things to appreciate about it. we have similar tastes and I was bowled over by this breezy, feel-good film. It’s charming.

  3. Tom! I’m here, I’m gradually catching up, get used to it!! Lol 😉 I wondered about this one. Sounds better than I imagined! I’m not big on Knightley, though, so I’m still not sure if I’ll try to see this one. Is that a 6/8 pie slices? You switched your site up while I was away so I’m not sure! Haha. Nice review, buddy!

    • Well, hello friend. Glad you could stop by. My notifications menu sure appreciated it, too! Haha my phone was blowing up at work today. Awesome. 😀 I’ll be sure to return the el favor soon.

      First off, yes to the getting rid of the numbers part of the graphic. I like just the pie better. You can decide for yourself how ‘much’ or ‘how good’ the chunks indicate, the numbers were kind of too limiting. Hopefully it won’t be too confusing for folks, though. . .hahah!

      And as far as this film goes, I’d say it’s worth a shot. It’s not your typical rom-com (not far from it, either, but it’s not super formulaic by any means). There’s good music, good performances and a good message. The ending is well-worth it, too.

      • Haha sorry I was blowing up your phone! I just wanted to get all caught up, and now I believe I am. 🙂 Can’t believe how ridiculously far behind I’d gotten! Digging the new look, btw. Very sleek. I might give this one a shot–my love of Mark Ruffalo might balance ought my annoyance at Keira Knightley. Lol.

      • Oh no, no apologies necessary! My phone loves the attention!!! 😀

        I’m slowly getting back into the groove of things. I think I simply have been having some movie overkill recently. Have been seeing them still, but the writing about them and blogging sessions have tapered off recently. Only temporarily though! I don’t even think it was a conscious decision, it just started happening. hah!

      • And oh yeah, totally feeling the annoyance towards Knightley. She is kind of nerve-grating in Pirates of the Caribbean if you ask me.

  4. I’m actually quite interested in seeing this one. Knightly keeps on improving and Ruffalo is great in most things. Haven’t seen Once yet, that ought to my first stop. Excellent work Tom.

    Adam.

    • Knightley really is moving up a few notches, isn’t she man? I am liking her more and more honestly. I’ve never really ‘hated’ her or anything but not been that keen on her stuff. But the magic btwn her and Ruffalo is dynamite here. I can’t wait til u get to check it out man. You should like it a fair bit 😀

  5. This looks decent from trailers. You know…like a nice quiet film that isn’t going to make much but will provide a treat for those who do end up witnessing it. I think Ruffalo is a very underrated dude as no one really talks about him when discussing the most consistent or skilled actors of this generation. He is always a highlight of the movies that he is in and can be very versatile when required to be. HULK SMASHHHHHHHH….

    Wait, that last part may be out of place….

    • Word word word word WORD!!!!! Preach the good word about Ruffalo man, I love the guy and also think him to be awfully underrated and all that. He’s a definite highlight of this, but so is the music. and I did not think Knightley would be that good of a singer. This is some good wholesome shizz kids!!!!!

    • ‘Ikea’ phase hahah. indeed, she’s certainly stronger here than I’ve seen her lately. Definitely a step-up from her Pirates of the Caribbean nonsense

  6. What great music! I’ve been listening to music from Begin Again since I saw the film. If there’s any justice, the song Lost Stars will be a hit. Loved your review.

    • I know, the soundtrack is amazing. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this. Lost Stars is good and I’m a real big fan of No One Else Like You. Another nice surprise was seeing Knightley singing, she’s got another talent I see. Thanks!

  7. I saw an interview of Ruffalo and Knightley together promoting this movie, they have a fun chemistry, it’s good to hear it translates to the big screen. I might check this out when it’s on home video. Great review!

    • Thanks dude! the two are great in this movie man, in fact if that’s the only thing you take out with you I honestly think it’s more than enough to recommend this film on to others. Knightley I’ve never been the biggest fan of but I really enjoyed what she did here. The whole set-up is a lot of fun.

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