Someone give Keira Knightley a record deal pronto! From the writer and the director of Once, a musical drama springs up again, involving a scorned woman and a down on his luck record producer, whose lives intertwine on one open mic night. It was a simple story, elevated by the performances of the actors, and a soundtrack that is quite fitting to the film. Begin Again was charming, and I could just see myself watching this over again.
In a nutshell, a record producer chanced upon a songwriter who tried her hand in singing, and offered to make her album. She was that fresh talent that he was looking for, and he has imagined that she has the potential to go big. However, what makes the film come together, is that even if they were simply just on a journey to produce and sell the album, the audience is told their personal stories, and how it simply intertwines with the center of the film. Dan, played convincingly by Mark Ruffalo, was a struggling record producer who was just fired from his job (despite starting the company with his business partner). He lives in a small apartment, is separated from his family, and hasn't been finding a musical act that adheres to his tastes. He wastes his day on booze, and has barely any cash in his pockets. Greta, played brilliantly by Keira Knightley, was a girlfriend and a songwriting partner of Dave, a newly famous rockstar. When she inadvertently discovers that he cheated on her, she packed up her bags, stayed with a friend, and was just about to leave New York. When Dan heard Greta's performance, everything picked up for him and proposed that he sign her to his label, a proposal Greta later on accepts. However, things initially did not go well in the record label, prompting Dan and Greta to independently produce the album, using the different places in the city as their album backdrop.
I felt like I was watching two different stories transpire on the screen. The focus is not solely on Dan or Greta, but it is on Dan and Greta, separately. Even when they mostly shared the screen together, there were just different factors going on. It was like "here's Dan, having the time of his life with his passion project, finally finding that new sound he was looking for. Then there's Greta, just sharing her songs, and she's having fun doing it, not because it could get her famous, but because she loves to share her music". Their stories blended well together, and both characters were given their ample context that doesn't make it look like it's one's story preceding the other, that one character was more in focus than the other. It helped that both were given background stories that were explicitly shown on screen, so context is established and understood.
However, while both of their characters' separate stories were in focus, Keira Knightley definitely stood out in the film. She was simply wonderful. She portrayed her character with charm, and down to earth, and simple. Her sense of style complimented her taste in music - I love how her character was written. Greta was a kind of person who was intuitive and supportive, but honest and passionate about her music. I thought that Knightley did justice to her character, and her nature along brought vibrance to her character. Knightley is one of those actresses that has a versatile look, that she could look wretchedly scorned in one movie, and just carefree in the next. She seemed very relaxed in the role, and as for her singing debut, she did fantastic work. Her voice was great.
Mark Ruffalo also portrayed Dan very convincingly. His role seemed so natural to him, as Ruffalo is no stranger to a passionate character. He had great chemistry with Knightley, and in terms of character, their characters seemed to compliment each other. Adam Levine, who also makes his feature film debut, did good work. Granted his character is similar to his media persona (a singer), so I didn't think the role was difficult for him to dive into. Nonetheless, he was able to hold his end, and didn't just play an aloof character. Hailee Steinfeld was also good, although she's starting to become typecast as a secondary character, usually a misunderstood daughter of some kind. She should really be getting much better roles.
Another factor that made the film charming is that its use of New York's space. Sure, it was mostly brief recordings, but the concept of the city being their recording studio is a great idea, and it did bring life to the film. Speaking of music, the film boasted a great soundtrack (that I am currently obsessed with). Most of the songs were either by Levine or Knightley, and I still can't believe it was her singing. The songs definitely added to the charm of the film. Just like the film was easy on the eyes, the songs were appealing to the ears.
John Carney did a fantastic job bringing his screenplay to life. I did find the ending rather underwhelming. It suddenly reached a peak, but it didn't exactly know where to go from there, so it simply faded. Don't get me wrong, I like how it ended, but it was just immediate, that there's no some kind of transition or inkling that says "hey, I'm about to end". The film does eventually wrap things up, and I like how it was done, by using the credits. Usually most people don't stay through the credits - and credits give recognition to the cast and crew who made the film possible - so it was a somewhat clever tactic.
Final Word: The cast, the screenplay and the songs pretty much blended well together.
Cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine
Director: John Carney