By Simon Miraudo
June 9, 2014
It’s called Begin Again, but why, when once was probably enough? Keira Knightley stars as heartbroken English singer-songwriter Greta, still reeling from a break-up with a newly-minted rock star (Adam Levine) whose increasing douchebaggery can be measured by the growth of his beard and widening of his shirts’ v-necks. After reluctantly playing one of her songs at an open mic night in New York, disgraced, alcoholic record exec Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is struck by inspiration, or maybe it’s just desperation, having been fired by his partner Saul (Yasiin Bey, formerly Mos Def) earlier in the day.
Dan convinces Greta to tape her tracks in the streets of the city and then use the finished album to get her foot in the door at his former label. Writer-director John Carney can’t even remain interested in that very basic plot for an entire feature’s running time, letting his long-awaited mainstream follow-up to Once dodder off into the night. I don’t want to crush anyone’s indie spirit here, but even that flick had a final act.
What Begin Again lacks in shape, originality and insight, it makes up in generosity of spirit and Voice judges. (Cee Lo Green pops up briefly; no Shakira though). There is an earthy, endearing loveliness to Begin Again, thanks largely to a messily charismatic Ruffalo and the scrunched-nose charm of Knightley, in what I’m calling her first comedy because I really don’t like Love Actually. James Corden, professionally making things more adorable since the early 2000’s, plays Greta’s musical buddy, while Hailee Steinfeld and Catherine Keener fill out the film’s extended family as Dan’s daughter and estranged wife, respectively.
The songs are… fine. Movies always fight a losing battle when they tell us that the music we’re hearing is raw, honest, transformative art, and in reality, they’re just catchy little ditties written by the guy from New Radicals. None, sadly, deliver the raw honesty of the transformative Once anthem ‘Falling Slowly,’ however, the scenes of Knightley’s rag-tag band jamming to her Taylor Swiftian pop (sung, impressively, by Knightley herself) are fun at least.
Begin Again is a good hang-out movie, and good hang-out movies don’t have to be good movies in any other way. Carney can get himself out of structural strife by populating his film with likeable actors and having them play pleasant music. But only once.
Begin Again plays the Sydney Film Festival June 15, 2014. It arrives in Australian cinemas August 7.