Begin Again (2013)

My Score

Gretta and her long-time boyfriend Dave 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 for the better when Dan, 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.

Genre : Drama/Music

Country : USA
 
Cast :

Keira Knightley : Gretta
Mark Ruffalo : Dan
Adam Levine : Dave

Director : John Carney

My opinion

“Are you really an A & R man? You look more like a homeless man.” 

Begin Again” is a modern fairy tale in which individuals are about to make a new start in their life and (coincidentally) begin again : the start of a new career, a new relationship, a new image or simply a new personal life. The amount of films with people who are on the brink of disaster, in a desperate situation and then by a twist of fate take control again, is endless. It’s the same in this with music filled feel-good movie. Only the chosen princess in this tale, I personally think isn’t such a success. Not a bad word about the acting skills of Keira Knightley, but the moment she starts laughing, I feel shivers going down my spine. And she laughs a lot in this film. The choice of Mark Ruffalo as the quarreling hit music producer and full time alcohol drinking future candidate clochard, contrasts sharply with this. An endearing and beautiful rendition. Fortunately, he didn’t turn green during a fit of rage.

The whole story starts with an intimate and fragile performance by Gretta (Keira Knightley) in a dingy pub. She has just broken with her boyfriend, the rising star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) who couldn’t resist the temptations of his stardom and leaves his artistic better half for a female producer. Gretta is a songwriter who puts fragments of text and music on paper once and a while, trying to channel her deeper feelings in poppy sounding romantic tunes. At the same time the producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) tries to cope with his own personal problems. He has lost his magic touch of discovering new talent and starts drinking a lot. As a result he’s being sacked by his partner and co-founder of the record label. By coincidence he sits at the bar of this pub and he becomes enchanted by the song. Surrounded by a disinterested audience, he’s the only one who realizes the potential of Gretta’s song. And that’s the beginning of the fairy tale. 

I’ve played in a band once and I was also fantasizing about the glory and fame. The attention, the innumerable people who listen to your music and know your song by heart, the number of fans who follow you unconditionally, the feelings you can produce within total strangers and the money we could earn with it. Unfortunately it remained a fantasy because we had two drawbacks: it wasn’t exactly commercial music and we didn’t live in the US, the country where your dreams can come true and where some poor guy can grow out  into a mega-star. Dan hears Gretta’s song for the first time and he’s touched by the innocence and simplicity. He’s the only one who can imagine how a full orchestra could support this with sophisticated arrangements and turn it into a huge hit. For me this was the most successful and imaginative scene. It demonstrates why he was a brilliant music producer. The empathy and the ability to project a simple piece of music to something grander and overwhelming. The music, in my opinion a rough mix of Suzan Vega and Birdy, isn’t my favorite genre. But that didn’t matter at all. It’s a wonderful laid-back movie that makes you feel relaxed. 

Unfortunately it’s a film which progress is as obvious as that Easter Monday will fall on a Monday. As the dominoes begin to fall, you can predict what direction it’s going and what the final outcome will be. The music career of Gretta goes as planned, the characters who lost each other somewhere reunite irrefutable and the decisions taken are as expected. No astonishing developments or unexpected endings. A simple film which gives you a good feeling and contains a positive message. But perhaps it’s because my love for music is so big and I agree with the subtly hidden complaint against the music industry nowadays, that I appreciated this film. Today it’s only the commercial aspect that counts and not the emotional value. Gretta made this already clear at the beginning of the film : “Sorry, what does beauty got to do with anything? I actually just think that music is about ears not eyes“. 

I also admire Knightley who seemingly has sung the soundtrack by herself and she did this in a creditable way. She can, although she was out of tune a few times, still start a singing career in case Hollywood would turn its back on her. Also the supporting roles were exceptionally successful. James Corden as the helpful Steve who is musically talented, although his street performances were extremely bad. The ballad via voice mail was actually the musical highlight in this film. The endearing role played by Corden was brilliant. Hailee Steinfeld as Dan’s daughter Violett, who’s not satisfied with the attitude of her father, was spot on. Take a guess how that will work out ! Ceeloo Green as the savior Troublegum took care of the fun part. But mostly I was surprised by Adam Levine, front-man of Maroon 5 (Not that I knew him because it’s not my type of music and I suppose it’s reasonable commercial). The practical experience he gained in the music circuit was convenient I guess. I’m still wondering if the name Dave Kohl was a parody on that of the front-man of Foo Fighters. The combination of the singer with little acting experience and the actress with little singing experience was sublime. The only thing I’m sure of is that (and who has experience in sound recordings can confirm it) the recording of the demo will sound pretty lousy when you see what kind of amateurish material they used in a noisy metropolis like New York. For the rest, this was a sympathetic musical film with the versatile and colorful New York City as a setting. 

My rating 6.5/10
Links : IMDB

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1 Comment

  1. While most of the plot of Begin Again is fairly familiar, the performances—particularly Ruffalo and Knightley's—keep the movie fresh and appealing.

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