Published May 24, 2007Only Hollywood can afford to gloss over romances with expensive candlelit dinners and convenient plot twists that propel narrative and embrace the celluloid version of warmth. In both the real world and Dublin musical Once, theres awkward fumbling, aimless detours, a sense of loitering and the feeling that youre just wearing out the dreariness with someone to keep you from being lonely. Yet thats precisely where director John Carney discovers the sparks: within the kitchen-sink drabness of everyday life, where brief interludes of euphoric melody shut your eyes to whats in plain sight and make you swoon harmoniously.
The film stars the Frames front-man Glen Hansard as a haggard, no-nonsense busker, credited only as "the guy. His heavy brow carries the weight of Irelands grey skies, and his guitar has seen better days. With a tune scribed in a fit of depression, he attracts the attention of "the girl (Marketa Irglova), a young Czech immigrant who sells flowers on the street between her duties as a house-cleaner and a single mom. She too has a musical background, being trained as a classical pianist.
A meagre but earnest collaboration begins between them that subs for an attraction that remains unvoiced and uninitiated, with feelings that can only be communicated under the guise of creative impulses. The first spontaneous duet in the back of an instrument shop carries all of the sexual charge the fully clothed couple otherwise restrain.
A genuine low-key charmer shot on suitably low-grade handheld cameras and bolstered by near-amateur performances that are engrossing and enlivening, Once stands out as not only a musical for the indie alternative scene but for an entire generation thats tired with nostalgic samplings of Broadway remakes.
While Hollywood looks back for big, glittery, pre-sold packages, Once is deeply rooted in the here and now, with a firm understanding of how truly magical musicals come from those small, deprived spaces where the emotions are inexpensive and real, and the lyrics just cant wait to get out. (Fox Searchlight)