Let’s start with a bar in downtown New York City. A place that has open mic nights. A guy is singing and when his song is done, he asks a friend to come up and perform a song. She demurs, but is a songwriter and cannot resists the impulse to share. A guy walks in and orders a drink. While most of the club isn’t much interested in her song, this guy is. He hears it, stands up with his drink and gets a bit closer. Her music reaches a place inside of him.
Then we get the cue for a flashback as the words ‘earlier that day’ appear on the screen. The guy is Dan Mulligan, who once upon a time formed an indie record label. His track record since then has been spotty – and that’s being very, very kind. In fact, he hasn’t discovered a talent (as in signed a new artist) in seven years. His marriage has fallen apart.
He’s not quite estranged from his daughter, who lives with his ex-wife, but he’s not all that far from it. And he’s been fired that very morning.
Cut back to the present and we now focus on the singer, Gretta. Then, once more, via the flashback, we get her back story. She’s British, and she and her boyfriend have been flown to New York, where they are wined and dined by a big record label. While they’ve written songs together, the record label isn’t interested in her, they’ve signed him, and only him. Gretta and Dave are set up in a terrific loft apartment and life is good. Then the boyfriend has to go out to LA for recording sessions, marketing, and all the other stuff.
He’s distracted and begins an affair with a hottie that works at the label. So, after he sends Gretta an MP3 file of his new song, she realizes it is about a different woman. The boyfriend has cheated on her, and their relationship will blow up that very day, and Gretta’s world comes crashing down around her.
Cut back to the present, or to use the film’s title, Begin Again.
This time, Dan Mulligan, who we now know is, or rather was, in the music business, is much closer to the stage. While the girl Gretta is only playing an acoustic guitar, Dan envisions a much fuller arrangement of the song with a bass, a cello, a piano, and a drummer. What we hear is what he hears inside his head. What we see, by the magic of digital imagery, these instruments are playing themselves and Gretta’s song is much better.
Any way Dan approaches Gretta to offer to sign her and he wants to produce an album with her. He tells her they can do it without a studio – they can record tracks all over the city. She’s skeptical as Mulligan is scruffy, broke – he can’t even afford the beers they’ve been drinking. She says she’ll think about it over night and let him know, one way of the other, the next day. And there’s your set-up.
The film is Begin Again, and the leads are Mark Ruffalo as Dan Mulligan, and Keira Knightley as Gretta. You want a one word review – Terrific. Two people who have each gotten the sharp end of the proverbial stick, meet and they make beautiful music together – and now, I mean that literally. This is not a Cinderella story, nor is it a poor guy strikes it rich kind of tale. Rather this is a feel good summer film centered around music.
The hallmark of the film is that it seems so very real. Mark Ruffalo is one of the centerpieces and he shines as a guy with know-how, can-do smarts, and energy and drive. That is, after meeting Gretta. Gretta is more laid back. Who knew that Keira could sing so sweetly? This is not the Keira Knightley that you will recall as the heroine or belle of the ball in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
But there’s much more than the two leads. First there’s nearly two dozen songs on the sound track. Yet, the film doesn’t play as a musical. There are no sunsets, and there are no Prince Charmings. The closest we get to idyllic is Gretta and Dan walking through the city while listening to music via a head-phone splitter.
Hailee Steinfeld is on hand as Dan’s daughter Violet. Catherine Keener plays the ex-wife Miriam. James Corden plays Gretta’s friend Steve, and Adam Levine is quite good as Gretta’s one-time sweetheart Dave. Rounding out the cast are Mos Def as Saul – Dan’s once and former partner at the indie label, and CeeLo Green as a hiphop star who knew Dan way back when.
Just so you know, this film was written and directed by John Carney. who back in 2006 gave us his signature film called Once. This was a wonderful movie about a street musician and an immigrant who meet and fall in love in Dublin. Begin Again compares quite nicely to Once. Plus the film is set in the far more familiar New York.
I was very impressed with this film. To use a musical reference, this film strikes no sour chords. We begin with two characters that have had their world broken apart. But they’re able to ‘begin again’ and we are with them as they record music right there on the city streets, parks, and rooftops, and even a subway station or two.
As a former Manhattanite myself, I left in 2008 for sunny Sarasota, FL, it was fun to revisit the city. And when you add in the fact that I was in the company of two very capable actors, and with lots of very pleasing music, it is easy to see that I thought Begin Again was a terrific movie. Four point two five and recommended.
And we’ll close wit the trailer: