Sunday, 17 August 2014

Film Review: Begin Again

Begin Again is a musical dramedy from writer/director John Carney - it tells the story of two down-on-their luck strangers, Dan (Mark Ruffalo) and Gretta (Keira Knightley), who decide to help each other turn their luck around by making music on the streets of New York.

Begin Again is the second movie by writer/director John Carney, the man behind Academy Award winning Once from 2006.  This latest film is set in New York, and stars big name actors like Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo as two strangers thrown together via their torrid luck in love and life.

The film sees Gretta (Knightley) scorned in love by long-term partner Dave (Adam Levine) - more or less alone in the Big Apple, she pours her heart-break into a sad lament during an open mic night, where her talent doesn't go unnoticed by record label man, Dan (Rufflo). However, Dan has that same day been muscled out of his own studio company. Together, the two vow to make music on the streets and put their tough times behind them.

The cast fit together really well, with Knightley, on first impression a tough sell as the quietly soulful folk artist, slotting into the role well. I found that Knightley's natural English charm and somewhat elven good looks lent themselves to the gawky but talented singer/songwriter character mould brilliantly. She's shy and not-so-quietly cynical of Dan at first, brushing aside his advances of producing her album. But when the two come together and start making music, Gretta discovers the joy of making music for the sake of making music, as well as living life with those around her.

Ruffalo was also great as the unshaven, world-weary record producer with an ear for talent. His natural rough-around-the-edges nature meant that he had a lot of fun with the role, the chemistry between Knightley and himself evident from the get-go.

I was skeptical of Adam Levine being cast, but he's actually a really great fit for the role. Surprising actually that a legitimate musician would want to play the role of a douchebag musician who sells out for the money. The cynic in me would say he drew on his real-world experience...

Jokes aside, Levine's really great and detestable in this film. James Corden crops up with some good one-liners, whilst Cee Lo Green also plays a small role where he stole the show briefly. Hailee Steinfeld was possibly the only weak link as Dan's tearaway daughter, Violet. She was okay, but I felt could have injected more to what was otherwise quite a cookie-cutter role.

The soulful music encapsulates the tone of the whole film; It's equal parts raw and polished, personal yet universally relatable. This is the kind of film anyone who has ever loved a song or someone can understand and relate with.

I also really enjoyed the New York setting, with the ramshackle urban jungle alleys contrasting beautifully with the uplifting and slick direction. When Dan and Gretta's troupe of music makers take to the streets and Carney indulges in capturing his characters living in the moment, it is hard not to get swept up in the music and the people.

Something that I really liked about this film was how it cleverly steered away from well-trodden narrative cliches. For example, Dave and Gretta are two broken, betrayed people who find each other in the Big Apple, united by their love of music and mutual heartbreak. A common set-up for finding love, right?

Refreshingly, Carney deviates from the template, and keeps it interesting right until the final scene. In fact, there was a moment where it could have gone either way, and I was willing the film to go the road less-travelled. It did, and I was really happy that it didn't end predictably.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

If you've ever been infatuated with that one song, been at crossroads in life or felt lost on where to go next, Begin Again is the movie for you. Knightley and Ruffalo make for an endearing lead duo, and the tidy avoidance of typical narrative cliches is a big bonus.


  1. Great review! Knightley and Ruffalo had good chemistry, and I like how the film didn't end in a predictable note. The soundtrack was what kept me attached to the film. I really liked the whole New York as their studio idea, and the scenes that went with it.

    1. Thanks! I was willing it in that final scene to not be predictable - thankfully, it wasn't.

  2. Glad you liked this one, as well!

    I agree with most everything that you said, and I must say that I've been listening to my music with much more focus and sincerity, over the past month.

    Great review!

    1. Thanks Tanner - it was your review that convinced me to go see it in the first place! It wasn't showing anywhere near my place so it was quite a trek to find a showing. Glad I did though. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Great review! I was mulling over whether or not this would be a legitimate watch or plain cheesy.

    1. Thanks Thomas! It's not cheesy at all, definitely give it a shot - the soundtrack is awesome.



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