Monday, July 7, 2014

Movie Review: "Begin Again"

What purpose does music serve? When an artist creates a song, should they create it for themselves and hope that people will enjoy their vision, or should they cater to what the audience wants? How far should you follow your instincts? These questions, as well as, can Adam Levine act, are answered in the sweet, tremendously enjoyable Begin Again, written and directed by John Carney, the genius behind Once.

Dan (Mark Ruffalo, suitably scruffy) is a once-successful music executive nearing the end of his tether. Living in a small apartment, alienated from his wife (Catherine Keener) and teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), he drinks too much and has taken too many risks following musicians he believes will be the next sure thing. Everyone is through coddling and indulging him, even his best friend Saul (Mos Def), with whom he co-founded the record company.

One night Dan drunkenly stumbles into a club to find Greta (Keira Knightley), a dejected musician, half-heartedly singing after being goaded onstage during an open mike night. Greta has her own issues—namely, her boyfriend (Adam Levine), with whom she wrote songs and pursued musical dreams, has suddenly become a star, and left her behind. Despite her lack of performance ability, Dan is immediately taken with Greta's voice and her songwriting, and believes she will be his ticket back into the musical good graces, if only she takes his suggestions. (A scene in which Dan "sees" how he could produce her song is tremendously creative and fun.)

The thing is, Greta isn't so sure she wants to compromise her vision for her music in order to make a hit. She doesn't really care if she sells her music—she just wants to be able to perform it, at least when she's not wallowing in her misery. But with nowhere to go to record the album, Dan convinces Greta to follow an outlandish idea—why not record the album all over New York City, in the middle of the elements, with all of the ambient sounds—traffic, crowd noise, etc.—as part of the album's sound?

As Dan struggles with his own personal problems, Greta is trying to resolve her feelings for her former boyfriend, since he has recorded one of the songs she wrote for him. Will love win out, or will music? Will Greta compromise and embrace Dan's vision for her music, or will she stick to her guns? And will Dan be able to get his old life back?

While most of the plot of Begin Again is fairly familiar, the performances—particularly Ruffalo and Knightley's—keep the movie fresh and appealing. They're an unlikely pair but Ruffalo's rumpledness (if that isn't a word, it should be) and Knightley's slightly uptight airs mesh well together. Keener and Steinfeld do well with what they're given, and Cee Lo Green tears into his small role with an appropriate amount of gusto.

And to answer the questions I'm sure you're wanting to ask: Knightley's singing is pretty good—her music is actually something I'd find myself listening to. Levine's acting, on the other hand, isn't as impressive as his singing. While his character never really transcends general douchebaggery, some of his lines are delivered with about as much flair and emotion as Green Card-era Andie MacDowell. (Watch that movie and you'll see what I mean.)

While Begin Again doesn't quite reach the level of Once, I really enjoyed this, more because it combined my love of movies with my love of music than anything else. But that's more than enough reason to check this one out. (Plus, for the most part, Levine is still nice to look at.)


  1. "... some of his lines are delivered with about as much flair and emotion as Green Card-era Andie MacDowell."

    Ouch! That's gonna leave a mark!

  2. I always enjoy a good movie inspired by music or when the music ends up being a driving factor of the story. It adds another dimension to the emotional arch I go through as a moviegoer.