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Review: Begin Again

Begin Again
06.29.2014
8 10

This review originally ran as part of JoBlo.com's TIFF 2013 coverage under it's original title CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE.

PLOT: A down-on-his-luck music exec (Mark Ruffalo) discovers a beautiful songwriter (Keira Knightley) who's nursing a broken heart. They join forces to make an album with her songs recorded against the NYC urban soundscape.

REVIEW: BEGIN AGAIN is director John Carney's long-awaited follow-up to his indie hit ONCE. He's done a couple of low-key movies since then, but this is a major return to form, and it's no wonder The Weinstein Company ended up buying this in the biggest deal of the fest (so far). To be sure, it's not unlike ONCE, with this also being a story about two troubled people brought together by a shared love of music. While ONCE was a little more authentic in that the two actors (Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova) really were musicians and really were falling in love, this more polished variation is nonetheless tremendously entertaining.

Once interesting thing it reveals is that Keira Knightley actually has a pretty nice voice. The film opens with her singing a charming low-key ballad, and while she's probably not going to turn into a pop star, she has an indie Feist kind-of thing going that works well for the film. Again – like ONCE – this film is jampacked with original songs, working as a kinda-sorta musical. While none of the songs are as shattering as “Falling Slowly” they have a nice sound to them and should prove popular with audiences once this comes out. Heck, they could even get some decent radio airplay.

As musically driven as it is though, John Carney never lets the focus shift from what this actually is, which is the story of two damaged people who give each other the boost they desperately need. Ruffalo plays the rumpled, former prodigy producer who was famous for his work with hip-hop bands in the nineties, but has gone to seed after a bad break-up with his wife (Catherine Keener). He spends his days in an alcoholic stupor, pitied by his former partner (Yasiin Bey- aka Mos Def) and despised by his teenaged daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). It's the sort-of role Ruffalo's played before, but it suits him well and he also shows us a spark of passion behind the character's eyes that suggest he's a more hopeful person than he lets on. There's a scene early on – when he first sees Knightley on stage – that he immediately imagines the perfect arrangement for her song, with instruments coming to life, giving her ballad a strong hook, that's an interesting peek into the music exec mindset.

In the meantime, Knightley makes you fall in love with her all over again in a role she seems ideally suited for. Her character is wounded thanks to a break-up with her newly famous rock star boyfriend (Adam Levine of Maroon 5) but her vulnerability and passion for music makes her intensely likable She also never goes the manic pixie dream girl route. Rather, she's three-dimensional and an adult, and isn't just around to help Ruffalo fix his life. She has issues of her own to deal with. The chemistry between her and Ruffalo is a lot like that between Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray in LOST IN TRANSLATION. They seem like they could be friends and a scene where they walk around New York sharing an iPod is something special.

Some of the supporting players here also deserve kudos, with Steinfeld (of TRUE GRIT) making Ruffalo's daughter a believable character. She's angry, but not a bitch. James Corden plays the requisite comic relief, and while this is definitely an archetypal role, it can't be denied that he's extremely likable and funny as Knightley's best pal and fellow ex-pat brit.

While I'd still give ONCE a slight edge over this due to it's authenticity, BEGIN AGAIN is like a more polished commercial variation on a similar story. It feels like it could catch on an an even bigger way than the last one, and proves that Carney, with his knack for music and relationships, could be another Cameron Crowe (JERRY MAGUIRE even gets a shout-out early-on). This is a terrific movie that's guaranteed to put a smile on your face, no matter how jaded you may think you are.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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6:10AM on 09/12/2013
I really enjoyed Once, and the film introduced me to the awesome music stylings of Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova. I suggest you pick up their cd Strict Joy, their band is called the Swell Season. Glen is also in a band called The Frames. Cool to see this film is also gonna be a good one!
I really enjoyed Once, and the film introduced me to the awesome music stylings of Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova. I suggest you pick up their cd Strict Joy, their band is called the Swell Season. Glen is also in a band called The Frames. Cool to see this film is also gonna be a good one!
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12:09AM on 06/30/2014
Hipster Legend!
Hipster Legend!
4:56AM on 09/12/2013
Sounds like a solid cast; interesting point about Knightley and Ruffalo coming off like the Bill Murray and ScarJo pairing in Lost in Translation. She was paired with Steve Carell in last year's Seeking a Friend For the End of the World, with mixed results. Also looking forward to seeing Steinfeld in more films, it's been a while since True Grit came out and I get the feeling she'll hit the big time Chloe Moretz-style really soon.
Sounds like a solid cast; interesting point about Knightley and Ruffalo coming off like the Bill Murray and ScarJo pairing in Lost in Translation. She was paired with Steve Carell in last year's Seeking a Friend For the End of the World, with mixed results. Also looking forward to seeing Steinfeld in more films, it's been a while since True Grit came out and I get the feeling she'll hit the big time Chloe Moretz-style really soon.
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12:34AM on 06/30/2014
I enjoyed this. It's a lot slicker and more polished than Once and is more Hollywood-ised but I think that actually made me like it more, I guess I'm shallow that way. The moment where Dan first hears Gretta sing and he imagines the other instruments on stage magically playing by themselves as he forms an arrangement for the song in his head was really inventive and fun. Not a fan of Adam Levine's acting but at least playing the "douchey ex" is not too much of a stretch for him.
I enjoyed this. It's a lot slicker and more polished than Once and is more Hollywood-ised but I think that actually made me like it more, I guess I'm shallow that way. The moment where Dan first hears Gretta sing and he imagines the other instruments on stage magically playing by themselves as he forms an arrangement for the song in his head was really inventive and fun. Not a fan of Adam Levine's acting but at least playing the "douchey ex" is not too much of a stretch for him.
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12:08AM on 06/30/2014
Hmmmm.... I am pretty jaded though...
Hmmmm.... I am pretty jaded though...
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3:41AM on 06/30/2014

I'll pass

I hated "once" so much...
I hated "once" so much...
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1:12AM on 06/30/2014
Sadly, a broken heart is all Keira Knightly could nurse.

OH!
Sadly, a broken heart is all Keira Knightly could nurse.

OH!
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12:35PM on 09/12/2013
What a great review. Sounds like a really great feel good film.
What a great review. Sounds like a really great feel good film.
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8:16AM on 09/12/2013
To be honest I fucking hated Once, but I'll give this a chance.
To be honest I fucking hated Once, but I'll give this a chance.
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