Begin Again (The Weinstein Company)
Rated R for language.
Starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, CeeLo Green, Mos Def, Catherine Keener.
Written and directed by John Carney.
Fairy tales come true in movies. Sometimes also in life, but for the masses, it’s life is usually a few successes and a lot of failure. Begin Again, the story of a down-and-out record exec and a jilted lover on the rebound is one of those cinematic musical fairy tales, complete with an ending to make the folks at Disney jealous.
Begin Again begins with a meeting between Greta (Keira Knightley) and Dan (Mark Ruffalo) at a New York nightclub as both characters reach rock bottom in their personal an professional lives. Greta is a songwriter whose jut been dumped by her former musical partner and lover Dave (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine in his film debut) as he ascends into pop stardom. Dan, an alcoholic has just been fired by his partner from the music label they started together. He’s also on the skids with his teenaged daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), who he sees occasionally – along with his estranged wife Miriam (Catherine Keener).
When Dan hears Greta sing one her original songs, he has a vision of how great she could be with a little production oversight and guerrilla marketing. Spurned by his former partner Saul (Mos Def), Dan turns to one of his old friends and big-time hip hop star Troublegum (Ceelo Green) for a little help in forming an ensemble for Greta as he records her original songs on the streets of New York. His idea is to make a record produced in raw form with the sights and sounds of the city as backdrop.
Dan and Greta form a close friendship that teeters on romance, but never really develops. As the album is completed, Greta’s old flame Dave comes returns, begging her to take him back and join him on his trip to stardom. She must choose between Dave and her own path, as Dan tries to put his family back together.
Begin Again has a few things going for it. One is the original music of Gregg Alexander (with various co-writers), which is simple and enjoyable, if not a little pretentious (think: an almost too perfect union between indie movie/indie music). In other words, I don’t think masses are going to run out and buy the soundtrack, but it will appeal to certain clusters of indie fans. Keira Knightley, who performs all the vocals in the movie, also holds her own as a singer, but obviously couldn’t cut it if she changed careers.
It’s not just the music that comes across as pretentious in Begin Again. The aforementioned fairy tale theme makes for an ending that mirrors musical comedies from the 40s, 50s and 60s where some sweet kid from out of town makes it big in the Big Apple. It’s a little too sweet for any kind of grip on reality, right down to the way Dan pulls his life together in a sweet package along with nice bow on top.
Begin Again is rated R for language, but could have easily passed a PG-13 test with fewer F-bombs. The story is certainly rated G.
Want another perspective on Begin Again? Read Jenniffer Wardell's review here.