Director John Carney, who gave us the irresistibly charming quasi-musical Once, treads on familiar turf with Begin Again, a movie about two characters seeking rebirth and authenticity in the often brutal music business.
Mark Ruffalo provides the most compelling reason to see Begin Again — which represents a mild falloff from its predecessor, which went on to become an award-winning Broadway play.
R for language
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
Ruffalo mixes rage and ruin in his portrayal of Dan, a down-on-his-luck music producer who once had a big career.
After Dan, who’s drinking his way toward total failure, is fired from the record company he helped found, he hooks up with Gretta (Keira Knightley), a singer/songwriter who’s trying to recover from a broken relationship with her boyfriend (Adam Levine), a singer whose career is on the rise.
Gretta, we fear, may become a cliche, the totally supportive girlfriend who’s left behind by her boyfriend’s success.
Dan’s marriage already is in the tank. His former wife (Catherine Keener) seems chilly toward him, and his teen-age daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) isn’t wowed by him either.
A cheerfully amusing James Corden plays Gretta’s only real pal, a street musician.
There’s no shame in gimmickry in a movie such as Begin Again, so it didn’t bother me that Dan decides to make a record with Gretta. Improbably, all of the tunes are recorded on location in Manhattan using lots of ragtag equipment.
Begin Again was screened a while ago, and, frankly, I don’t remember much about the tunes, something that wasn’t true of Once.
Carney deserves credit for avoiding the worst romantic cliches, but Begin Again feels ever-so-slightly corny and out of tune. I wouldn’t expect to see another Broadway musical, but then who’d have thought the Dublin-based Once — which had the advantage of taking us by surprise — would become a theatrical hit?