Published Jul 10, 2014Everybody deserves a second chance. Take down on his luck record-label executive Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a handsomely dishevelled Dad whose past glories in the world of indie music (the signing of famed soul musician Trouble Gum — played here by Cee-Lo Green — among them) sadly stopped paying for his daughter and his estranged wife's present once his recording contracts ran dry.
Ousted from the label he helped co-found and finding his only solace in hitting the sauce, Dan strikes out on a bender after a particularly rough day and, like kismet, magically winds up in a West end hipster haunt of the Williamsburg variety.
What he finds is a voice (sung exquisitely by the surprisingly talented Kiera Knightley). Greta, a soft-spoken Brit with a Carole King-esque fashion sense, has recently moved stateside after her boyfriend, Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), struck it big in the world of soft rock. Having once been partners in songwriting and romance, the pair split soon after Kohl found success, leaving Greta and her gifts to the open mic nights of Manhattan and abroad.
With nothing left to lose, Dan and Greta decide to take one last shot at stardom by recording an album entirety on the streets of New York City.
Directed by Once mastermind John Carney, Begin Again is a pleasant enough follow up to the award-winning musical drama, but lacks the unique charm of the previous film due its done-before location and banal subject matter.
When Once hit theatres back in 2006, it felt like a relatively novel film: two real-life musicians, one with limited acting chops (minus Glen Hansard, who had previously acted in The Commitments), write and play all their own music in a film in which they also co-star. The result was an Academy Award for Best Original Song (Hansard and partner Markéta Irglová's "Falling Slowly"), a wider audience for their band, the Swell Season and a critically acclaimed stage adaptation of the story.
Begin Again follows closely in its thematic and musical footsteps, but ultimately doesn't match the punch of its predecessor due to its overall similarity to every other New York City tale of an artist going from tatters to riches. Whereas Once used its Irish setting to show off Dublin and the characters that inhabit it, Begin Again's metropolitan backdrop lacks the natural feeling of Carney's other flick — a bit unusual for a film that depicts the importance of spontaneity in life and music.
For fans of the music from Carney's breakout feature, Begin Again's musical numbers do not disappoint: Hansard and Carney both submit songs this time around, as well as the New Radicals' Gregg Alexander, who contributes the bulk of the film's folk pop and soft rock tracks. While it's hard at times to watch a former and current host of The Voice belt out even more innocuous pop numbers for moviegoers, it's hard not to imagine a million piano purists and Glee aficionados jumping all over the score's sheet music once it's released.
Although not as directly moving or long-lasting a viewing experience as Once was, Begin Again is a pleasant enough picture and a solid start to the next part of Carney's career.