Starring Keira Knightly and Mark Ruffalo and from writer-director John Carney (Once 2006) comes another struggling musician. This time, Knightly’s Gretta is spotted in the opening scene by Ruffalo’s formally successful music producer Dan. After a greater understanding of their back stories, they decide to make an entire album (instead of a demo) recorded on the streets of New York.
The films real strength lies with its characters. With the story set out the way it is, there’s a lot invested in the world in which the characters inhabit (the kind where recording songs in Central Park is viable). This means that in order for the film to have any chance of succeeding, the characters need to connect with an audience – this it does. Ruffalo brings his schlubby, hobo look and laid back persona which is always charming whilst simultaneously bringing an (albeit slightly rounded) edge in his fractious relationship with his daughter and obvious drink-driving. Knightly plays a recently single songwriter who is thrust into an open-mic night by a criminally underused James Corden. To this end, she fits the role very well – especially considering her association with period dramas and playing a more well-off member of society.
One particular scene where we delve into the mind of Dan, he literally sees the arrangement of a song perform before his eyes is absolutely spellbinding and shows the inner workings of the character.
However, that’s not to say the film is flawless. One major issue is that film seems to be searching for a lo-fi tone – the whole idea behind the motivations are ‘we can do it ourselves, outside of the system’ however every time a song is sung, it sounds completely produced. Whereas Once sounded like it was recorded whilst filming, the music in Begin Again sounds a little too perfect – especially considering the locations are in the back of New York alleyways.
Carney also seems to be standing on well-trodden ground – his own footprints even! This isn’t even the first down-on-their-luck singer film we’ve had this year (looking at you Inside Llewyn Davis). Begin Again is very clearly within Carney’s comfort zone – almost Once with a-list actors. However it lacks the charm that carried Once.
On the whole, the songs are well-written, the acting is wonderful and the story is entertaining however its production values that becomes its downfall – it lacks the lo-fi guerrilla filmmaking that made Once so charming.