Begin Again (2013)
Cast includes: James Corden (The History Boys), Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right), Adam Levine (He’s Just Not That Into You)
Writer/Director: John Carney (Once, Zonad)
Genre: Comedy | Romance | Music (104 minutes)
On open-mic night, Steve invites a reluctant Greta on stage to play one of her songs. “So, this might be kind of rough. It’s for anyone who’s ever been alone in the city,” she says as an introduction. It’s a sad song, and it’s obvious the audience isn’t into it… except for one guy in the back. The guy is Dan, and earlier that day he’s listened to a whole pile of demos… no, no, no… “Just give me anything I can work with,” he says to his car’s CD player. “Where’s mom?” “Where’s my daughter?” says Dan when he picks Violet up from school. Why does Dan think he has a right to comment on what Violet wears? Anyway, Dan has a meeting at his record company and he has to bring Violet along. Too bad she has to witness the argument he has with his partner. “We need vision, not gimmicks.” Looks like gimmicks are going to win out… Saul doesn’t want Dan around any more. Violet is starting to agree with Mom… “Mom says you’re a pathetic loser.”
Things couldn’t get much worse. Beginning again... “So, this might be kind of rough. It’s for anyone who’s ever been alone in the city.” When we hear the lyrics this time, we understand why they speak to Dan. But as he watches Greta sing, he’s also hearing what the song has the potential to become with accompaniment… piano, violin, base, drums. “I want to make records with you,” he says. What a come-on, she thinks. “I’m not Judy Garland, just off the bus.” Anyway, she on her way back to the UK tomorrow. We’ll learn her backstory before long. But for now, Dan convinces her to stay one more day so he can have her sing for Saul. Saul isn’t as impressed as Dan… “She’s a little undercooked for me.” Saul will consider signing her, but he won’t pay for a recording session for a long shot.
One thing leads to another and Dan decides, “The city is our studio.” Yes, that’s right… New York City, with all the noise and chaos! From here, the movie becomes a musical tour of the city, both famous places as well as interesting unknown places. Begin Again doesn’t have many surprises, but it’s an enjoyable hour and a half. We certainly see another side of Keira Knightley as Greta… we never knew she had such musical talents! The NYC footage is delicious, especially for those of us who love our city. Although Begin Again is a contemporary story, it’s also a bit of a throwback to an earlier era, in terms of musical and visual styling. In many ways, it’s a vehicle for showcasing writer/director John Carney’s favorite kind of music and NYC footage. Perhaps the concept is best expressed in one of Dan’s lines… “Music turns even the most banal scenes into pearls.” Begin Again is a string of pearls.
3 popped kernels
A young singer/songwriter and an over-the-hill producer turn New York City into their recording studio
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Wide Release
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Nicely Varnished Realism
Nutshell: Using New York City as a recording studio
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Pure Entertainment