Begin Again


Irish writer / director John Carney's Once was one of the cinematic highlights of 2006 for me. The story of a lovelorn Irish busker who meets and falls in love with a Polish pianist on the streets of Dublin, that film's exquisitely anguished tunes were by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who also starred. The film was turned into a Broadway sensation, as well. Carney's latest film, Begin Again, also features lovelorn musicians but this time the film's troubled romances are trumped by the movie's amazing exuberance. Keira Knightley plays Gretta, a British songwriter with a lovely, breathy Jewel-like voice, who has been penning songs for and with boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine of Maroon 5), with whom she has been living for five years before they arrive in New York City for Dave's big recording gig. Gretta, not unpredictably, is all support and optimism and so is, predictably, devastated when Dave returns from L.A. and in the most passive-aggressive display I've seen on film in quite a while plays her a song he wrote on the road to another woman. Gretta departs and bunks with her old mate and fellow busker Steve (the wonderful James Corden), who talks her into doing a few minutes at open mike and that's when the magic really begins. In the audience, nursing disillusion and dissolution, is Dan, an A&R man who has been run off from the label he started with friend Saul (Mos Def billed as Yaslin Bey). After Gretta receives a lukewarm reception from Saul, she and Dan concoct a scheme to record her songs -- each one beautiful pop blossoms, both musically and lyrically -- in various sites around Manhattan. They gather a posse of performers and in the grand tradition of old Hollywood musicals "put on a show." Mark Ruffalo as Dan never hits a wrong note though he does not actually perform any  music in the picture. Rufallo is such a reliable actor, and he and Knightley have several wonderful moments in this wonderful film. Their scene with the audio splitter as they walk through the city listening to Sinatra is pure gold. The lesson of this tender picture is:  If you've been hurt surround yourself with people who care about you, make some music and begin again. Highly recommended.

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