Sunday, November 09, 2014

Movie Review: "Begin Again"

Starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, James Corden, Cee Lo Green
Directed by John Carney

While not quite a musical, the perfectly pleasant comedy-drama “Begin Again” certainly is packed full of music. But that’s no surprise when you consider the writer-director is John Carney, who made a splash with audiences and critics with 2006’s wonderful “Once.” That film focused on a singer-songwriter who falls in love with a working-class girl as he hopes to land a music contract.

“Begin Again” involves a singer-songwriter and a music executive who is determined to help the musician make a mark in the industry. So see, totally different movies, right? Actually, the prevalence of the music in both films is one of the few elements they share in common, as “Once” is mostly a two-person love story set in Dublin. “Begin Again” paints its tableau in New York City (used to great effect by Carney and cinematographer Yaron Orbach), and uses a much bigger cast filled with notable names carrying connections in music (Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green) and out (Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley).

Ruffalo plays Dan, a disillusioned music executive who is fired from the very record label he founded. By that night, he drunkenly stumbles into a bar and hears Gretta (Knightley, who proves she can sing quite nicely) performing a song about heartbreak. Dan is impressed, and in her sees a chance to recapture a long dormant love for his job. Gretta, meanwhile, is ready to go back to her home in England after a bad breakup with her boyfriend (Levine). She tells Dan she has no aspirations for stardom, and is much more comfortable as a writer than a performer.

Naturally, Dan is able to woo her into working with him (otherwise there’d be no story), and sets out to record an album using the great outdoors as their studio. There are a lot of great sequences of the two, along with their assembled band, performing in various locales (Central Park, a subway platform, building rooftop) that capture a sense of creativity and fun in making music.

Although hardly an in-depth character study of two troubled souls, Carney’s screenplay gives his actors room to explore and emote, and Ruffalo and Knightley carry the material very well, with the always dependable Catherine Keener (as Dan’s ex-wife) offering solid support. Sure, the film’s ultimately a bit of a trifle, but it sure sounds good while it plays — and it’s not too shabby of a travelogue for NYC, either.

Grade: B+

(Rated R for language.)

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