Director: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green, Catherine Keener, Mos Def, James Corden
Rated: R (language)
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.
By Matt Greene
Carney’s Once was a pleasant little surprise that bordered on being revelatory, with sweetness and beautiful music oozing out its ears. Begin Again doesn’t fall far from that tree. It’s a love letter to the power of music, during the mundane and the striking alike. Are its songs as immediately beautiful as Once? No, but at times that’s the point: the instant gratification of pop music versus the idealism of art. Throughout its many highs and fleeting lows, Begin Again pulses with uplifting life.
The framing is wonderfully inventive, starting on the night that Ruffalo and Knightley’s characters meet and then jumping back to tell us how each of them got there. It’s like a movie and its prequels rolled into one. Despite a couple of hurky-jerky scene cuts, the editing and pacing is pretty great: heartfelt and truly unique, with some super fun performances. Corden has a breakout role as the comedic relief BFF, Steinfeld authentically captures precocious teen-dom, and Ruffalo is always a pleasure. His character in particular is a case study for how to show and not tell, specifically in an early and hilarious scene of him listening to demo tapes.
Begin Again wears its heart on its sleeve throughout (the subtle cinematography, the effective musical themes, NYC as a character), but sometimes when you wear your heart on your sleeve it can be overbearing. All the sincere goodness in the film is slightly marred by cheesiness, yet not overwhelmingly so. It overcomes these faults with slight and firmly planted romance. Begin Again will raise your spirits without pandering to your expectations.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
By Cole Schneider
John Carney’s “Begin Again” follows two characters whose mere presence in each other’s life helps them overcome their rough pasts and embrace the titular second beginning. It is an ode to city of New York, a ballad that sings of the spirit of music, and an interrogation of the studio financial model.
Its characters are tired and clichéd, but the journey they embark upon has moments of simple honesty and the destination they find together is one of rare authenticity.
The front end of “Begin Again” is structurally clunky as it sets its two characters on a course to meet one another, but once they meet the film settles down enough to invite us in. Both Knightley and Ruffalo give convincing enough performances; even their flimsy arcs are given heart such that we willingly overlook writing problems in their characters.
It might be that the chief problem of “Begin Again” is that it isn’t “Once”, the 2006 hit which has brought Carney to where he is today. “Begin Again” is so similar that it begs for comparisons and if “Once” is the bar it was reaching for then there is no way it is a success. Still, as a film on its own terms there is enough sweetness and levity to ground its emotion.
There is a scene where Ruffalo’s character is explaining the power of music to find meaning in the banal. For all its faults, “Begin Again” indeed meets us within life’s banalities and then gives meaning to them.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars