Songs of New York
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The next feature from director John Carney, Begin Again is the charming tale of two lovers of music whose paths cross to change both of their lives. That sounds like the most generic synopsis, but the film is so damn charming that it becomes quite difficult to hold that premise against it and certainly it’s not nearly as generic as it may sound. Originally titled Can A Song Save Your Life? (the title was thankfully changed), the film centers around a struggling musician played by Keira Knightley and a record label executive (Mark Ruffalo) who decided to help her out to fill the void in his own life. The film’s cheesiness is perhaps is low point and the resemblances to Carney’s earlier 2007 feature Once are noticeable. Some of the logic is a bit absurd, but Begin Again is one of those rare films that manages to capture the charm of its leads and their emotional pathos and ride out towards a triumphant conclusion.
Dan Mulligan seems to have it all at the beginning, but he inherently struggles to adopt his own workmanship in rapidly changing times. He’s stuck in the wrong place and as it becomes more and more evident, he lashes out. It feels good for a moment, but then he’s fired. As one often does when a crisis hits and the idea of thinking ardently about it doesn’t seem that appealing at that moment, Mulligan goes on a drinking binge. He’s trying to drown his sorrows in alcohol, until he meets singer-songwriter Gretta Jones in a bar. Gretta is noticeable a bit more pulled together than Dan, which honestly doesn’t sound like that difficult of an endeavor to pull off. She had a musical boyfriend of her own by the name of Dave Kohl, who became big and subsequently cheated on her. Gretta’s a fantastic creation of Carney’s, a ferocious woman who isn’t going to let life pull one over on her. Dan becomes enamored with Gretta’s fierceness and her music. He decides to catapult her forward and the journey begins in earnest from that point onwards.
The film belongs to Ruffalo and Knightley, whose earnest chemistry prevents the entire endeavor from falling apart. The connection of two lost souls that manages to empower both of the individuals involved has kind of become a trope by this point, but Knightley and Ruffalo somehow manage to imbue a true sense of realism. It feels germane, how the two of them bond over a mutual love that takes them in directions they didn’t comprehend even being a possibility. Adam Levine makes his acting debut in a film and he’s absolutely fantastic, defying the usual low expectations set for musical stars who cross over into acting. The music from Gregg Alexander is perhaps the greatest contribution to the film, connecting all of the emotional dots with thunderous music that is partnered with the film in near perfection. It also helps that everyone can genuinely sing, perhaps not as professionally as Levine, but there’s an earnestness there that just clicks.
The film isn’t perfect, however. As described above, there’s a prevalent cheesiness that may turn some people off, especially if you’re looking for a more hard-hitting film in terms of darker emotions. Some of the logic really just isn’t there and if you start disassembling the film’s logic in certain sequences, it can easily fall apart and leave you a bit puzzled while you scratch your head. It’s a film that relies overtly on emotional catharsis over its actual plot structure and at certain segments that shows in an unfortunate fashion. But at the end of it all, Begin Again is a great jaunt about the power of music and human connection. There’s a tremendous emotional pull out of the film and even though at certain segments it truly feels like it’s working far too much on those heartstrings, you’re likely to leave the theater humming and with a broad smile all over your face. As it is, “Lost Stars”, penned by Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley, Nick Southwood and sung by Levine, is pretty much a gem in and of itself. Go have a good time.
Title: Begin Again
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: John Carney
Produced by: Anthony Bregman, Tobin Armbrust, Judd Apatow
Written by: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden, CeeLo Green, Catherine Keener
Music: Gregg Alexander
Cinematography: Yaron Orbach
Editing: Andrew Marcus
Production Company: Sycamore Pictures, Exclusive Media, Likely Story, Apatow Productions
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Dates: The Weinstein Company
Image Courtesy: Panoramic Screen @ WordPress