Director: John Carney
Studio: Exclusive Media
Stars: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine
Begin Again is a charm monster. It’s written and directed by John Carney, who broke out in 2007 with that feel-good romance with music, Once. Begin Again is also a feel-good romance with music, but it is not by a long shot Once. Instead of fresh and ragged, it feels polished and calculated. Stranded in a plot setup borrowed from A Star Is Born, Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, a boozy,
falling down former music industry supernova willing to play second fiddle and
mentor to a gifted, rough-around-the-edges rising singer-songwriter named Greta, played by Keira Knightley. Dan’s a music executive who has been tossed out on his ear by his fed-up wife (Catherine Keener), estranged from his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and booted out of his own record company by his longtime business partner (Mos Def). Greta’s a bruised, prickly fish-out-of-water Brit stranded in America after her rising pop music star boyfriend (Adam Levine) nastily dumps her. Fate, at least as dictated by Carney’s breezy, good-natured screenplay, throws Dan and Greta together the same night at a bar. He listens to Greta stumble through a pleasant little acoustic ditty on stage, and unlike most of the rest of the bar patrons, thinks she’s got the stuff to be a star. In one of the movie’s goofiest, most endearing moments, Dan gets so inspired by what he hears that the musical instruments around Greta begin playing a new arrangement on their own. Dan doesn’t have two dimes to rub together, but Greta reluctantly agrees to work with him and they record an album of her songs all around New York in the great outdoors, backed by talented friends and student musicians. Can you possibly wonder what the outcome will be?
Begin Again is light and enjoyable, peppered with some good stuff, the best of which is Ruffalo’s shambling, lived-in performance. In a nice, very Woody Allenesque scene, our hero and heroine stroll around the city sharing each other’s playlists on an iPod; “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca is one of hers. In another terrific sequence set on a rooftop, Greta and Dan record a tune backed by Dan’s estranged daughter rocking out on the guitar and Greta’s struggling musician friend (James Corden). But in the end, Begin Again, like Knightley’s singing voice and the original songs she sings, is just too wispy to have any staying power.