Dan: You can tell a lot about a person by what’s on their playlist.
Greta: I know you can. That’s what’s worrying me.
– from, “Begin Again”
Title: “Begin Again”
Director and Writer: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, James Corden, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def,) Adam Levine, Karen Pittman, Paul Romero, Andrew Sellon, Rob Morrow, CeeLo Green, and many others.
Filming locations: 12 locations in New York City
Awards: Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 5 wins & 17 nominations.
I had the music genre movie, “Juliet, Naked,” chosen, but on a library database search of Mark Ruffalo movies I came across this one, which I had never heard of but had a good enough sounding plot to check out. Oh am I glad I did. It’s not to say I like, “Juliet, Naked,” less, but I like this one just a little more.
The plot revolves around the two main character’s lives, when their lives intersect, and how that intersection changes both of their trajectories. Greta (played by Knightley) and her boyfriend, Dave (played by Levine,) come to stay in a Manhattan apartment when Dave gets signed to a major record label. Greta is also a songwriter and musician, but she isn’t welcomed along for the ride except as a supportive girlfriend to the star.
Dan (played by Ruffalo,) and Saul (played by Bey,) his college friend, formed a successful indie record label back in the day, but Dan has since devolved into an alcoholic slouch who is separated from his wife, Miriam (played by Keener,) and estranged from his daughter, Violet (played by Steinfeld,) while Saul has taken over the reins of the label.
Greta and Dan meet on what has been one hell of a bad day for each of them. Both are feeling defeated. By the end of the night, both are given the most precious elixir in the universe: hope. The two begin to collaborate as a team: Greta as a singer-songwriter and Dan as a record producer. Each has something to prove to themselves and to others, but each are driven by a genuine passion for making good music to share with the world.
The dialogue in, “Begin Again,” is excellent. It never gets pretentious, and for those with a love of the world of music, it is often profound. It’s also important to note that this is not a “down” movie at all. As the characters navigate through this very alive city they become an organic part of its pulse. The atmosphere is that of impromptu excitement that the viewer can’t help but feel. There is also a fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants that lends just the right amount of awkwardness to it to make it feel real.
Of course there wouldn’t be much of a movie if there weren’t a few bumps along the way. While the musical collaboration is happening, Greta tries to come to terms with how she feels about her ex-boyfriend Dave, who tries to find a way back into her heart. Dan is struggling with his alcohol addiction and trying to reconnect with his estranged wife while at the same time trying not to be a pathetic worm in the eyes of his daughter. Saul has grown tired of Dan’s lies and needs to see some “walk the talk” before he’ll become a believer again.
There is a great support cast also. After doing a little googling, I see what a celebrity icon Levine is as both a musician and an actor, which is not that surprising as he has good screen presence, a decent voice, and the kind of charisma that gives him star power. He feels a little wooden in the role, but that kind of wooden-ness is found in real relationships, which makes him believable. The battle he has, between holding on to what’s precious and caving in to the star machine, may be the most important issue examined in the movie.
Bey as Saul is a natural for the role. He looks fabulous in his tailored suits. He doesn’t underplay or overplay the role. As the CEO of an indie label, again the issue of what’s real and what sells is examined. The dilemma of supporting Dave and his ideas in light of his alcoholism and inconsistency as friend conflicts with his responsibility to the label and his employees, and he does it just right.
James Corden as Steve, a friend of both Greta and Dave from another time and another place, is now a busker in NYC. He is great as a support person and as comedy relief. His rinky dink apartment has wonderful character for the scenes that take place there.
CeeLo Green as Troublegum gives another standout performance. He is a rapper that made it big back in the day and is living the life of luxury. He hasn’t forgotten the label/people who got him there. He’s only too willing to help lend support in multiple ways when Dan asks for it. There are a few scenes that take place at his opulent mansion that give a luxurious contrast to the rest of the film that is taking place on the streets or in run-down or ordinary loft apartment locations.
Steinfeld as Hailee gives a wonderful, subdued performance as the awkward high schooler trying to find her place in the world. I love how her character is developed through the plot and how the relationships between her and the other characters play out.
Of course, as the genre suggests, the music is a fabulous feature of the film. The soundtrack, which is available separately, is called, “Begin Again – Music From And Inspired By The Original Motion Picture (Deluxe).” There are 16 tracks on the album but twice that many songs in the film. The imdb breakdown of both can be found here. Knightley or Levine do singing on most of the tracks.
I’ve pretty much covered everything I like about, “Begin Again.” Another thing is how the film was cut together out of chronological order. Information is pulled in as needed in a skillful way and enhances the entertainment value. Finally, I LOVE the car Dan drives around town everywhere, a black 1963 Marx X Jaguar. I want one!
Is there anything I didn’t like? Not a thing! What a delightful surprise to randomly find on a database search. I wonder how many other gems like it are out there that didn’t get the promotion they deserved? Imdb says the budget was about $8,000,000 and cumulative worldwide gross is over $63,000,000.
What did I learn from the movie? A filmmaker doesn’t have to keep an iron grip on the actors and crew. I like the style of Director John Carney, who is an Irishman from Dublin. There is a lightness in spirit I felt watching this and hope to see more of Carney’s work.
Rating from 1-10: 8.5
*I openly admit my “genre violation,” as imdb calls this a drama and a comedy; yet the entire plot is around music and full of musical performances, so I’m hoping I can get a waiver for it.
originally posted on hanspostcard