" You wanna lose little or lose big? "
— Annette Bening, The Siege

MRQE Top Critic

Lost in Translation

Free of their usual context, the characters discover themselves anew —Risë Keller (review...)

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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.

Ruffalo and Knightley sign on location
Ruffalo and Knightley sign on location

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?