Last week I rushed out to see Begin Again with my sister at the FACT Picturehouse in Liverpool, once we realised a bit last-minute that it was showing there.
The latest film from writer-director John Carney (ONCE), BEGIN AGAIN is a soul-stirring comedy about what happens when lost souls meet and make beautiful music together. Gretta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) are college sweethearts and songwriting partners who decamp for New York when he lands a deal with a major label. But the trappings of his new-found fame soon tempt Dave to stray, and a reeling, lovelorn Gretta is left on her own. Her world takes a turn forthe better when Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a disgraced record-label exec, stumbles upon her performing on an East Village stage and is immediately captivated by her raw talent. From this chance encounter emerges an enchanting portrait of a mutually transformative collaboration, set to the soundtrack of a summer in New York City.
At times the romantic element between two main characters can be frustrating. Knightley’s Gretta demands that she is focussed solely on the music, not the Norah-Jones-aesthetic. It feels as though Begin Again should be aiming for the same goal, yet fails to do so. Without spoiling anything, if you have seen the film, do you believe the ending redeems it in this sense? Share your opinions below.
Begin Again is a commentary on authenticity in a commercial music industry, a criticism of the over-produced pop that is churned out so often into the airwaves. Ironically, at moments it feels as though it is accidentally also a criticism of Adam Levine’s own band, Maroon 5, as part of the music business. (Disclaimer: I love Maroon 5 and have seen them live multiple times, but come on.)
My favourite part of Begin Again has to be its soundtrack. Both the street-recorded album and the classic songs that weave their way into the diegesis of the film add to the narrative exceptionally well. I particularly like the implication near the beginning of the film that to become a famous singer-songwriter you have to get a song into a movie before you make it big. This whole film is about Gretta’s (Knightley) music, and the soundtrack doesn’t serve to make a down-and-out artist rich, but to instead enrich the experience of the movie-goer.
Unfortunately, you can tell that Adam Levine is not a seasoned actor when his thespian skills are juxtaposed with Keira Knightley’s. As a result, his character lacks a sense of genuine conviction – however this is not to the film’s detriment, considering his character’s attitudes. This would be my main criticism of the film, casting somebody who is more accustomed to the lights and cameras of The Voice and its reality-television aura, rather than a more experienced actor.
Begin Again is charmingly witty. It isn’t just James Corden’s perfectly timed comedic injections, though without them I feel the film may have fallen a little flat. At times it feels a little cliché, and I’m sure the ‘girl on a bike in the city at night’ scene has been done a thousand times, but for the most part, tropes weren’t overdone. I didn’t feel like I had seen this film before, despite loving dearly Carney’s Once (2007). It’s definitely worth a visit to the cinema if you can find one still showing it. If not, when it’s released spend the money it takes to rent it, or perhaps if it makes it to Netflix, add it to your list.
My personal rating: 4/5. IMDb average: 7.8/10 / Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Release date: July 11th 2014
Directed by: John Carney