Thursday, July 10, 2014

Begin Again: Movie Review


Straddles the line between indie and Hollywood well; delivering a feel-good, enjoyable story.
Begin Again features a young, formerly idealistic singer-songwriter ready to abandon her dream in New York City and an older, completely cynical indie music exec ready to abandon the abandonment of his dream. Keira Knightley plays singer-songwriter Greta, alone in New York City after her boyfriend made it big and abandoned her. Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, in the midst of drinking his life and career away just for the fun of it. 2013

Directed by: John Carney

Screenplay by: John Carney

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley

Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley star in Begin Again.
The movie opens with Greta being called up to stage against her will on open mic night. She has a cute and simple song and a lovely voice, but terrible stage presence and the audience lets her know it. Then we’re introduced to Ruffalo’s Dan — an extremely cynical, alcoholic, arrogant asshole, who is also extremely funny. It’s Ruffalo’s natural comedic ability that makes such a character sympathetic and endearing. He’s going to produce her album even though he’s not a producer anymore and she doesn’t even want him to.

The film has a great structure. The opening scene is actually replayed three times, from different perspectives, after we’ve gotten to know the characters and what has brought them to this point in their lives. I, for one, really appreciated getting to re-experience the turning point for them and the film.

I was not a fan of John Carney’s first feature, Once. Primarily because it was a movie just about musicians, and was really only for musicians, and if you didn’t care about their music, there was nothing to care about. But now he’s gone corporate! I mean, Hollywood. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. More money, accomplished actors, and storylines which are meant for a wider audience. Begin Again is about people, not just musicians, and there’s a lot to like in addition to the music.

Mark Ruffalo and Hailee Steinfeld star in Begin Again.
A lot of the great moments are in the details, and the cast. Near the beginning, Dan’s teenage daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), observes her father getting fired as she stands idly by. Later, Greta observes Violet and her school mates, and we get Dan’s reactions to Greta detailing her observations to Violet. Dan’s ex-wife (Catherine Keener) observes Greta. And we get to observe Greta’s ex-boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) being an asshole, completely unbeknownst to himself that that’s what he’s being, three times. Dave has Levine’s looks, talent and voice, so any of his fans should be quite pleased with that casting.

New York City is played up big time. Worse than all the romantic comedies set in the city, this time it’s not just a character, but it’s a musician as well! There’s also a pretty horrendous montage scene that will need to be ignored. (Every movie needs to have a montage!) Greta and Dan are about to admit to the guilty pleasures on their playlists, so a well-respected song that has stood the test of time plays while they listen to other unknown songs at various NYC nightlife spots. Essentially, we’re watching the characters experience things which we don’t know what they’re experiencing.

A film about trying to succeed in the indie music business and rejecting mainstream ideals all the while having Hollywood backing and being given the Hollywood treatment can seem disingenuous at best. And yet, this is where Begin Again really shines. There are multiple points during the film where the story really does reject the Hollywood way. It embraces its indie roots and keeps it about the characters and frequently goes against what mainstream audiences would expect.

The story is cute, light and feel-good. The characters are hilarious and endearing. Music lovers will probably love it, and there’s enough there for everybody else to enjoy it as well.
Best of 2014