film review – Begin Again

Begin Again, the story of a down-on-his-luck record producer portrayed by Mark Ruffalo and a down-on-her-luck singer-songwriter played by Keira Knightley, is much like the original pop songs on its soundtrack: charming, sugary sweet, but honest. It’s a film that, right from the start, wins you over and makes you want to buy into the fairy tale it spins about two desperate people who happen to find each other in a New York City bar at exactly the right time and who hold the answers to the problems in each other’s lives. That the movie works so well can be attributed to a lot of Begin Again‘s elements, but one of them is certainly its infectious fondness for the power of music.

Creating and listening to music obviously plays a big part in Begin Again, but there’s so much more to it than the fact the film’s about these characters and the practice of writing and recording music. This feelgood drama oozes love for music, and because of it it will strike a chord (pardon the pun) with any music fan. Begin Again sees people enthusiastically jam out and nervously play a new song to a loved one, it discusses how iPod playlists can tell you a lot about another person and how listening to music together can be one of the most romantic things in the world, and additionally the movie shows you how inspiration can swoop in and knock you off your feet; in one of the early scenes Mark Ruffalo’s character Dan is listening to an acoustic performance and he imagines how this raw song can become an arrangement by adding piano, strings and snare drums in his head, something that’s beautifully visualized by director John Carney.

But the other reason why Begin Again works so well is undoubtedly its cast. Mark Ruffalo’s trademark mix of ruggedness and charm makes the troubled Dan a person who you can’t resist rooting for, and Keira Knightley is equally fantastic as Gretta, a woman who’s hurt but uses her pain to get ahead instead of letting it hold her back. Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, James Corden, Mos Def and CeeLo Green also all turn in wonderful supporting performances, but it’s pop singer Adam Levine who impresses the most as a man on the verge of becoming a big star. He lends an earnestness and humanity to the character that makes him much more than just a one-dimensional and unsympathetic character, resulting in some truly affecting scenes he shares with Knightley.

While there’s nothing to really find fault with, Begin Again surely won’t win any awards for originality: its plot is predictable and, chances are, you’ll know from the start where each and every character will end up. The thing is though, that that doesn’t hamper the film at all. The movie is so earnest, so keen on delivering a feelgood experience, that you can only be taken by its efforts. It’s the kind of film where the destination doesn’t really matter; it’s the journey there that counts. And it that regard Begin Again delivers: the characters are relatable and likeable, the songs sung by Knightley and Levine are catchy earworms, the direction is flawless and the writing itself, mainly in terms of story structure, is inspired despite its familiarity. Begin Again knows it’s entertainment, but it’s entertainment that’s expertly crafted to really give you that fuzzy and bubbly feeling you sometimes go to the movies for.

Begin Again is a great feelgood flick for music lovers. Or just for anyone who loves a solid movie. 8/10

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