DIR/WRI: John Carney • PRO: Tobin Armbrust, Anthony Bregman • DOP: Yaron Orbach • ED: Andrew Marcus • DES: Chad Keith • MUS: Gregg Alexander • CAST: Keira Knightley, Adam Levine, James Corden, Mark Ruffalo
“A true New York story about the magical opportunities that can be found under this great city’s bright lights,” is how John Carney describes his latest film Begin Again. Featuring musical contributions from names such as Danielle Brisbois, Gregg Alexander and Glen Hansard, Begin Again is a musical comedy-drama that upholds Carney’s belief in the power of musical collaboration to bring lost souls together, as previously seen in his 2006 film Once.
The film stars Keira Knightley and Adam Levine as Gretta and Dave, a long-term couple and songwriting partnership who move to New York where Dave lands a deal with a major label. When Gretta finds herself alone following a betrayal, she meets disgraced record label executive Dan (Mark Ruffalo) at an East Village open mic. Captivated by her raw talent, Dan insists on a musical collaboration with Gretta in order to harbour the musical authenticity they both value.
While the film could have potentially fallen into the trap of simply ‘Americanising’ the Once scenario, it nonetheless holds its own. Moreover, the film evokes a sense of universality, as both English and American humour and mannerisms are successfully combined together in a well-written screenplay that can be equally appreciated by audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. However, Carney relies on more than just words for his storytelling power, as he aptly incorporates music into the film in order to expose what happens beyond the dialogue; throughout the film, music is shown to reveal the true nature of relationships and personalities, while at the same time bringing the simple urban surroundings of New York to life.
Furthermore, while Knightley and Ruffalo have a charming on-screen relationship as Gretta and Dan, the most likeable pairing is actually Gretta and her busking friend Steve (James Corden). This is largely due to the fresh source of comic relief provided by Corden, which works well with the sharp comments of the unassuming yet opinionated Gretta. This is emphasised by the documentary, ‘fly on the wall’ style of the film, which make the character interactions seem genuine.
However, despite the film’s claims of promoting musical authenticity, it nevertheless falls victim to the commercialism that it tries to overthrow. Knightley’s supposedly ‘live’ vocals are clearly processed by Auto-Tune, therefore depriving Gretta’s music of its rawness and transforming it into a commodity. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that Gretta never really achieves independence over her own music as Dan, like a true big-label producer, seems to have total control over the production of the album they set out to record. This would be forgivable if the film included one stand-out song such as that of ‘Falling Slowly’ in Once. Unfortunately, the soundtrack lacks such a song, which may come as a disappointment to fans of Carney’s previous musical offering. Moreover, Carney tends to overestimate the power of music to change one’s life for the better, as the outcome of one particular character’s individual story seems too good to be true. Therefore, like the film’s music, the plot ultimately becomes subject to formulaic mass-production, rather than achieving a sense of authenticity.
While Begin Again does have its obvious contradictions, its fresh wit, likeable cast and musical plot progression gives it the potential to be the ‘feel good’ film of the summer months once it has its Irish premiere at Galway Film Fleadh.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Begin Again is released on 11th July 2014