Since 2007, when John Carney captured hearts everywhere with his incredibly moving and exceptionally well-written musical ‘Once’, audiences have eagerly awaited the directors return to the genre, hoping that Carney will be able to capture the magic and originality of a film that rightly took home an Oscar for the song ‘Falling Slowly’. His latest film, Begin Again, is a perfect companion piece to Once, (even if Carney’s decision to move away from the intimacy of two relatively unknown actors to a cast of stars does detract from the feeling of stumbling upon something very real and very special) which follows two down on their luck musicians who cross paths in New York city, and it continues to build upon the themes prevalent in its spiritual predecessor.
It begins with a chance encounter that leaves Dan (Mark Ruffalo) smitten with Greta’s (Keira Knightley) music and entranced by her undeniable charm as she regales a heartfelt song about a failed relationship to a mostly uninterested crowd in a dingy bar. As a failing music business executive, Dan believes he has stumbled upon someone special who may just give his career the resurgence it needs, and Greta is equally intrigued by his enthusiasm and openness, which is mainly due to the large amounts of alcohol flowing through his veins.
As the two embark on a musical and emotional journey we learn about the moments leading up to the start of their friendship through flashbacks and accompanying songs; Dan struggles to connect with his estranged daughter and partner, and Greta is still torn from her break-up with the up and coming rock star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) who she travelled to New York to be with. The decision for the unlikely duo to record an album on the streets of New York gives way to a newfound creativity and both Dan and Greta slowly begin to come to terms with their troubled pasts.
Knightley and Ruffalo give superb performances in a genre that neither are overly familiar with, and Carney coaxes a raw honesty from both his stars and the supporting cast to provide the film with a vibrancy matched only by the stunning locations of the city itself. Whilst the story does resonate on a deeper level than most musicals, it doesn’t quite have the emotional heft of Once, but offers enough humour and energy that audiences will still be able to relate to the characters regardless of their preconceptions.
Making the transition from the lead singer of Maroon 5 to the big screen far too effortlessly is Adam Levine, with his natural good looks and the ineffable swagger of a lead singer being perfect for his role as the story’s villain, Dave Kohl – whose name is likely to either amuse or annoy fans of the Foo Fighters every time it appears on screen. James Corden is also a valuable addition to the cast as Steve, with his light-hearted humour and reassuring encouragement allowing Greta to shine even when she is feeling down.
As far as feel good summer movies go, Begin Again hits all the right notes, with its uplifting melodies and dazzling cinematography making you forget that you are actually in a dark cinema when you could be outside enjoying the sunshine. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but then again, it doesn’t need to, as Carney has crafted a delightful tale of two kindred spirits finding solace in each other as they set out to realise their true potential in a joyful celebration of music.
Written by Tom Bielby
Find Tom on Twitter: @filmbantha