Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: Begin Again

Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
John Carney's "Begin Again" is built upon a premise that feels a little contrived and the film, at times, is a little too cute for its own good. That being said, it still manages to charm. This should come as no surprise since the filmmaker's previous picture was "Once," the lovely 2007 film about an Irish folk singer and a Czech girl who can play a mean piano meeting up on the streets of Dublin and recording a few songs together.

In this film, Keira Knightley is Greta, a songwriter whose boyfriend (Adam Levine of Maroon 5) is a famous musician who has just scored a hit with some songs he contributed to a movie. Their relationship goes awry during a business trip to New York, resulting in Greta ending up at a dive bar with a friend who convinces her to perform one of her songs on stage. The tune catches the attention of Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a heavy drinking record producer whose own company has just been snatched away from him, after he wanders into the bar.

In one of the film's more creative sequences, Dan imagines the other instruments that would accompany Greta's acoustic performance in a recording studio. He introduces himself and, eventually, convinces her to join him in a visit to his company, where he plans to persuade his former partner to sign the singer-songwriter.

But Greta does not have a demo, so Dan concocts an idea to record her songs on the streets of New York, rather than in a studio, with the sounds of cabs, trains and construction work to act as ambience. The film nearly falters at this point as it is a little unbelievable that Greta, who has music industry connections, would go along with Dan's ploy, considering how drunk and out of sorts he is on their first meeting.

But the film's script issues are redeemed by the performances of the two leads, who manage to flesh out these characters properly. A side story in the picture is Dan's relationship with his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and it also contains a fair amount of cliche, but eventually manages to work once more due to the chemistry between the actors.

As was the case with "Once," Carney's latest picture is a musical and the film provides a fair amount of it - and some good tunes at that. There's a nice sequence during which Dan and Greta walk the streets of New York, sharing an iPod and commenting on how music changes the narratives of people passing them by.

So, while "Begin Again" may not stir the soul quite as much as the director's previous film, it's a breezy, enjoyable movie about music. And I like the way that the director handles Dan and Greta's relationship as well as the fact that the film leaves a shade of ambiguity in the finale. While the film's premise is centered a few cliched story lines, you might find some of the directions in which it goes a little unexpected.

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