“Begin again” would be chanted by a hyped up audience if John Carney’s musical rom com were an actual concert.
Because its wealth of catchy tunes, some of which are fully deserving of encore performances, constitute an electrifying experience that you know you paid good money for. And that’s just the film’s music.
Combining the hypnotic soundtrack with an engaging script and charming characters, the result is a thrilling work of art that excites the soul as much as it does the body.
MINI-SPOILER MARK: Minor plot details discussed without revealing major spoilers
Mark Ruffalo plays music producer Dan Mulligan, an alcoholic divorcee barely holding his life together as his relationships fall apart. When Mulligan is fired from his the record label, a la Jerry Maguire, he stumbles across the musical talent of Gretta (Keira Knightley) and sees her as his ticket back into a successful producing career. However, he soon learns that Gretta comes with her own baggage as well, for underneath the acoustic singer-songwriter’s potential for success is a heartbroken woman recently betrayed by her long-term boyfriend (Adam Levine of Maroon 5) who has found success and fame as an emerging singer.
When Gretta sees Mulligan’s interest as an opportunity to get back at her ex-boyfriend, the two begin to record an album on a non-existent budget to get Gretta signed to Mulligan’s former record label. The partnership soon proves to provide greater redemption for both parties; with each other’s help, Mulligan’s relationships with his teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and ex-wife (Catherine Keener) begin to mend while Gretta finds herself healing and moving on from the betrayal of her ex-boyfriend.
On the surface, as far as trailers let on, Begin Again‘s main draw appears to be its combination of music and a star-studded cast. In the introductory phase of Ruffalo’s character, the movie worryingly begins to rub off as a music industry version of Jerry Maguire, though this is thankfully not the case as the film quickly reveals the various themes and depth it offers.
The film’s moderate pace rides on superb dialogue that is as natural and believable as it is entertaining and hilarious. And when the script is brought to life by its talented cast, the result is so authentic that the characters are the kind you would expect to meet and have the exact same conversations with in the dream-chasing streets of New York City. Steinfeld must be commended on her very accurate portrayal of a withdrawn and shy teenager who opens up and shines in the right environment, a performance guaranteed to remind audiences of any teenager they might know in real life.
The script is witty and naturally comedic where it counts, but whenever the film shifts to a more serious tone, the characters turn to music to express their inner struggles. For Begin Again, the music is a meaningful instrument of expression and an artistic medium through which the audience connects with the characters. Everything from Knightley’s (yes, she can sing) soulful performance of “Like A Fool”, to the liberating instrumental bridge of “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home”, to the sincere acoustic rendition of “Lost Stars” by Adam Levine’s character, are emotional experiences in themselves. It is hard to think of another soundtrack (not from a typical musical where characters spontaneously break into song) that more accurately depicts its characters’ journeys than Begin Again‘s.
In fact, this film is a patchwork of so many themes that it would be a challenge to accurately describe what the movie is about. But to give it a shot, Begin Again could be summarised as a powerful story of mending human relationships, driven by a smartly-written script and powered by its catchy music.
The problem, however, is that the audience will struggle to understand the main point of the film until the credits start rolling and the entire story is observed in hindsight. While the various character sub-plots and music mash well together, Begin Again appears to lack an obvious main focus while the film is in progress. It is potentially frustrating when the audience rotates between the characters’ relationships to the album recording to the exploration of the “true” art of song-writing without any clue as to which of these elements is meant to take centre stage.
While the main message of the film becomes clear in the end, the seemingly aimless, albeit entertaining, direction of the plot while the film is being watched for the first time can leave audiences feeling unsatisfied for almost the entire movie. But it is safe to say that this is Begin Again‘s only major shortcoming in an otherwise brilliant effort by everyone who brought the story to life.
The film is emotional but far from tear-jerking, and lacks a significant climatic rise in its relatively straight line on the plot intensity graph. But the movie is nonetheless enjoyable and works very well by the time it concludes.
While it is unlikely to be a chart-topping hit as far as the box office goes, Begin Again will please those fortunate enough to catch its performance.
As Keira Knightley’s character stressed multiple times in the film, the important thing is not how the mass audience reacts to the music, but what the artist tries to sincerely bring across in his work.
The same thing goes for Begin Again.
Rating: 3.5/5 (TALK-o-meter: “Good, not great.”)