UK Release Date: 11th July 2014
Runtime: 104 minutes
Director: John Carney
Writer: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, James Corden, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, Cee Lo Green
Synopsis: A heartbroken songwriter and a washed-up record producer meet at an open mic night and decide to work together on an outdoor concept album.
When we look back at the films of 2014 in five or six months’ time, Begin Again is likely to be the “other” movie about a struggling musician. It is pretty much doomed to live in the shadow of the Coen Brothers’ moody Inside Llewyn Davis. This is a real disservice to an utterly charming movie that has a real song in its heart.
Gretta (Keira Knightley) moves to New York City as a singer-songwriter working alongside her husband Dave (Adam Levine). When he cheats on her, she moves in with friend Steve (James Corden) and prepares to leave the city for England. However, when she is coerced by Steve into performing at a local open mic night, she captures the attention of record executive Dan (Mark Ruffalo), who thinks Gretta might the act he needs to turn his luck around.
Begin Again is certainly not a perfect film, or even a particularly great one, but it achieves something that few films can; it charms the pants off the audience. It has a breezy, light tone that carries the narrative along nicely as it tells the story of the burgeoning working relationship between producer Dan and the talented young singer Gretta. It’s the film equivalent of chocolate mousse: lightweight, but certainly not lacking in sweetness.
| "I just think you have let your troubles get in the way of your entire life."
Keira Knightley’s central performance is an excellent balance of sass and vulnerability. Gretta is no pushover, but she’s clearly a character that has been hurt by an under-appreciative partner and is channelling her frustration into song. Knightley is warm and funny in the role, banishing the memory of her less than impressive turns in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Mark Ruffalo is also excellent as the bedraggled executive whose new-fangled ideas of online distribution don’t gel with the more traditional views of his label partner. Music is the only light in his life that refuses to go out, as shown by the goosebump-inducing sequence in which he mentally transforms Knightley’s open mic number into a full musical arrangement.
Music is even able to reunite him with estranged daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), a relationship which is played far more convincingly than in Steinfeld’s similar dynamic alongside Kevin Costner in 3 Days to Kill.
Begin Again also benefits from a killer soundtrack. Knightley and Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine (very convincing as a preening, commercialised douchebag) are hugely entertaining performers and the songs are real foot-tappers. Any film about music must be guided by its soundtrack and Begin Again certainly succeeds on that front.
| "Musicians for the most part are monosyllabic teenagers who really don’t have a whole lot to say."
It’s not going to change the world and it doesn’t really have anything to say, but Begin Again is a film that genuinely deserves the label “feel-good”. It’s charming, well-acted and completely uplifting.
Pop or Poop?
Writer-director John Carney has played an absolute blinder with Begin Again, which plays out as a more accessible version of his micro-budget hit Once.
Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo give great performances in the lead roles and kinetic musical performances push the story along.
It’s a light touch of a movie, but it will certainly make you smile and want to sing along. And in a world where even superheroes are gritty and bleak, that’s sometimes exactly what we need.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.