“Begin Again” (2014)
“Begin Again” starts with Greta (Keira Knightley) being pulled on stage by a fellow musician to sing a song. She refuses at first, trying to sink into the cushions of the couch she is sitting on. Reluctantly, she goes up and sings “a song about being alone in the big city.” As she begins, Dan (Mark Ruffalo) sitting at the bar, nursing a drink, slowly reacts to Greta’s song. Becoming more and more entranced, Dan starts reacting to the song, so much so that he ends up standing in the middle of the club, seemingly under Greta’s spell. We get to see this scene two more times early on in the film, from both Greta and Dan’s perspective, giving us background as we see what led them both to be in the club at that time.
In a highly creative way, the film lets us see the backstories of the two people destined to meet that night. Dan is a music producer, whose career has seen better days. He shows up drunk to pick up his teenage daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), bringing her along to a business meeting that doesn’t go well. In fact, Dan creates such a scene, that his one-time business partner (Mos Def) fires him in front of the rest of the recording company. Dan then proceeds to take his daughter to a bar, where after a few drinks and not having the necessary funds to pay for the drinks, he decides to drink and dash. Later that night, Dan finds himself in a bar, when he is transfixed by Greta’s singing. In fact, Dan is so in the zone, he begins to imagine how other instruments could be used to make the song sound even better.
We next learn about Greta’s backstory. How she came to New York as the girlfriend / songwriting partner of Dave (Adam Levine), an up and coming singer who could the next big thing in the music scene. Both are amazed that they are in New York, living in the record company’s big loft, with a refrigerator full of food. We see that Greta is Dave’s partner in every way, helping him write his songs and supporting him as she is willing to be in the background. But things start unraveling as Dave is under pressure to record the album, all the while Greta is stuck getting coffee for everyone. Things come to a head, when after spending time in L.A., Dave comes back and plays her a song. It’s a rather personal one, and Greta realizes that Dave has not been faithful. In fact, he has been having an affair with a record company employee. Greta leaves Dave behind, taking refuge in a fellow singer’s apartment, Steve (James Corden) a friend from England. In fact, he’s the very singer that brings up Greta on stage that fateful night that Dan discovers her. Dan convinces the reluctant Greta that they can make an album together and so starts their partnership to showcase Greta’s talent, and maybe, just maybe reignite Dan’s career.
The heart and center of this is the music. Knightley has a pleasant voice and a nice stage presence, with most of the songs she sings being a combo of folk and pop. The concept of the Greta’s album is that they are going to record the music on the streets of New York, using the energy and ambient sound to fill out the music. It’s an interesting idea, and certainly the film comes alive during these musical numbers. There is a wonderful musical piece near the end of the film, where Knightley, backed by a full band, including Ruffalo’s character playing bass, that takes place on a rooftop that is just a joy to watch.
Ruffalo and Knightley work well together on screen, and some of the best dialogue scenes in the film are when they are sparring back and forth. Knightley’s Greta won’t let Dan take the easy road, whether they are talking about his life or her music. Knightley, also has some very enjoyable scenes with James Corden, who plays her best friend Steve, who lets Greta crash as his place. While Corden’s character is there for a bit of comic relief, he is also there as a support system, willing to drop everything to help her with her album. Hailee Steinfeld, playing Dan’s daughter and Catherine Keener, playing Dan’s ex-wife, disappointingly, aren’t given too much to do in this film. But it’s CeeLo Green and Adam Levine that really standout in the supporting cast. Green, as a singer who owes his career to Dan’s creativity, is hilarious as the man willing to help out Dan and his discovery. Levine, as Dave, goes from sweet boyfriend to pompous rock star. Levine embraces the role and does a wonderful job. There are a number of songs that Levine sings, and the song “Lost Stars” that he sings near the end of the film to try and win Greta back, stands out as one of the best of the film.
Director / writer John Carney does a great job capturing the sights, sounds and energy of New York, especially during the music sequences. That’s where the film shines, making the film a “feel good” film that you can truly enjoy. “Begin Again” is about the power of music to not only inspire but also to heal. It’s a film that celebrates making music just for the joy making music and how freeing that can be. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it AgainFollow @Lastonetoleave
“Begin Again” is currently playing in Atlanta area theatres.