With “Begin Again,” Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, New York City and, yes, even Adam Levine have combined to bring a joyous film to the screen. Although “Begin Again,” is a wonderful escape from some of the over-hyped films of the summer, this movie is so much more than mere escapism. Written and directed by John Carney, “Begin Again” is the story of two people who meet at just the right time…when each has something the other needs materialistically and emotionally.
“Begin Again” opens in a noisy club during an open mic night. Gretta (Keira Knightley) is encouraged by her friend, Steve (James Corden), to come up to the microphone and sing one of her songs. After much prodding, she takes the “stage” and begins to sing. Although not many in the club are paying attention, one man at the bar is mesmerized…a slightly inebriated record producer, Dan (Mark Ruffalo). After Gretta’s performance, Dan approaches her and over time a friendship/business relationship is formed.
The back-stories of the two characters are cleverly told as each is introduced to us at the club. Gretta was part of a singer-songwriting duo, dumped by her partner, Dave (Adam Levine), romantically and professionally, while the two were are on a business trip to promote his music in NYC. Dan’s been in a downward spiral since separating from his wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener), and being tossed out of the company he helped found with former partner, Saul (Mos Def).
While Dave’s career as a singer appears to be taking off, after the break-up Greta is on the verge of heading back to London before being convinced by Dan to give him a chance to prove that he can he can make her a success. In so doing, he thinks he will be able to reignite his career as well. Turned down by his former recording studio partner to produce her music, Dan comes up with a very unusual recording approach that suits Gretta’s music and voice perfectly. It also presents the movie audience with the sights and sounds of a NYC that many of us have never before seen.
“Begin Again’ is filmed with a lot of love and it shows. Mark Ruffalo has never looked worse, but been better as the down-on-his-luck producer. He’s absolutely believable as someone who knows his way around the music business. Although he generates a lot of chemistry with Knightley, his scenes with the film’s children are even better. His work with Hailee Steinfeld as his teen-age daughter, Violet, and the young musicians are especially good. “Begin Again” gives us a Keira Knightley we’ve never before witnessed and she is fabulous. Knightley is no Barbra Streisand (and who is), but she sings in a voice that’s extremely well-suited to the songs she’s asked to perform. Her scenes with Adam Levine are outstanding and some of them will break your heart. Speaking of Levine—he’s absolutely tremendous as her boyfriend-singer who may want fame more than he wants to be an artiste. His final performance is simply amazing.
“Begin Again’s” supporting cast is very strong. Keener and Stanfield really sell their roles (is Keener ever bad?). James Corden has a great voice and he is wonderful as the supportive friend. His film, “One Chance,” is set to release in late August, and I, for one, can’t wait to see it.
Special shout-outs must be given to costume designer, Arjun Bhasin and cinematographer, Yaron Orbach. Bhasin nails the clothing for Stanfield and especially, Knightley. Her outfits are simple, but beautiful, and perfect for the role Knightley is playing. Orbach films NYC in such a way that you immediately want to book the next flight to New York.
In 2006 John Carney scored big with “Once,” and with “Begin Again” he scores again. He adds touches to the film that are just spot on. Watching Dan imagining Gretta’s song with instruments behind it is a stroke of genius and there are other smart touches throughout. “Begin Again” is more commercial than “Once,” but that is not a bad thing. In fact, it is terrific.