The art of storytelling really does need to feel organic and natural in order to feel like it is connecting with an audience in any way, shape or form. "Begin Again" is actually an apt title as this cloying, emotionally dreadful film that is filled with characters that we just don't like needed to throw out everything that it misguidedly thought was good and pardon the pun, "Begin Again".
When Gretta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) college sweethearts and song writing partners who head for New York when he lands a deal with a major label. However the trappings and lure of his new-found fame soon tempt Dave to stray, and a reeling, lovelorn Gretta is left on her own. Thankfully it doesn't take long for her luck to take a turn for the better when Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a disgraced record-label exec, stumbles upon her performing on an East Village stage and is immediately captivated by her raw talent. From this chance encounter emerges not only inspiration but an enchanting portrait of a collaboration that will change both of these people forever.
Lets speak as plainly as possible, this was absolute dreck. "Begin Again" was a corny, manipulative, base piece of lowest common denominator storytelling that is insulting to our intelligence as it is so desperate for us to love it that it tears down the charm of a movie that this filmmaker made years ago and was beloved by millions.
With a story that has similarities to the real life relationship struggles of Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová (aka The Swell Season) and stars of writer/director John Carney's breakout hit "Once", he ostensible tears down all the good will and charm that "Once" built up as Carney leans on clichés and tired gimmicks in a story with characters that we don't particularly like. The entire proceeding is actually kind of gross as it feels like he uses this film to bury some of the people who helped to build his career. It's as if it can't help but tell us how "genuine" and "creative" everything that is happening is...but here's the thing, when you draw the audience's attention to that fact, it makes it forced and completely manufactured. It's the anti "Once", filled with cynicism towards its audience, like it was a Michael Bay movie. Carney can shoot, and obviously knows how to scatter likeable music throughout the film, but it is all so phony. The film feels like a shallow and vacuous person who can't understand why no one loves it. It's the cinematic equivalent of a sociopath, it thinks it's normal and well adjusted, but is actually just horrible from head to toe.
Mark Ruffalo has a track record of good, but mostly unspectacular work and here as the charming but irascible record exec who can't quite connect with anyone, isn't SUPPOSED to be likeable, but he never manages to get truly redeemed and just floats in this area of misunderstood genius that no one understands. Is it an interesting character? Maybe, but it isn't a leading man. Keira Knightley manages to be fairly likeable, even though we never really care that she got dumped while Adam Levine didn't do much more then learn his lines and look sexy. The rest of the ensemble that includes the likes of Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, Mos Def and Cee-Lo Green are either wasted or just can't do anything to genuinely add to the proceedings. It's just a cavalcade of dull and fairly unlikeable people, and that doesn't make for a good movie.
When all is said and done, "Begin Again" is a mess with terrible characters and a narrative that is trying so damn hard to be likeable that it actually comes off as pathetic and desperate.
1 out of 5 stars.
"Begin Again" is now playing at theatres across the country, please check with local listings for show times.