Movie Review - Begin Again
Keira Knightley (Pride & Prejudice and Pirates of the Caribbean) plays Gretta, a British singer-songwriter who moves to New York City with her American singer-songwriter boyfriend Dave Kohl, played by Adam Levine. Dave gets a record deal after he and his music become popular when it's put into a movie. He starts to make his album and Gretta tags along but begins to feel like a third wheel who is totally useless or just the "girlfriend" of this rising celebrity.
It's funny to think that this movie could be perceived in two ways. It could be perceived as a spiritual sequel to Once where the two protagonists were slightly changed in terms of names and nationalities but remain versions of the same. It could also be a fictionalized riff or adaptation of The Swell Season (2011), which is the documentary about Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the real-life couple who played the couple and two protagonists of Once. The documentary has a similar trajectory where the woman in the relationship feels like she's in the shadow of the man.
Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac and The Avengers) plays Dan Mulligan, a music executive who works for a smaller record label and is essentially an A&R representative. He stumbles in drunk into a bar after having a very bad day and discovers Gretta performing one of her songs independent of Dave. Gretta is reluctant to perform. Her friend Steve, played by James Corden (Starter for 10 and The History Boys), pushes her into it, but Dan sees a lot of potential in her.
The rest of the movie is Dan trying to convince Gretta to sign to his label and make an album with him. In effect, he wants to get her out of Dave's shadow. At that point, it becomes all about the chemistry between Knightley and Ruffalo, which arguably is good.
I'm not sure if the producers of Glee, the TV series, saw this movie, which had a different title, when it premiered last year at the Toronto International Film Festival but Glee did an episode that mimics what this movie does. This movie has Gretta record her album on the streets of New York. Dan sets up his musicians and microphones literally on the street, in alleys and on rooftops where he proceeds to record Gretta and her band performing with the noise or ambiance of the streets surrounding them.
As this is happening, somewhat of a romance develops between Gretta and Dan. At the same time, both of their exes drift out and back into their lives. Dave is Gretta's ex, but Miriam is Dan's ex. Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich and Capote) plays Miriam. She's lovely and amazing as she always is. The frustration she has for Dan is just as believable as the second looks she gives him.
The film is just fun and breezy. The music is selfsame. The subplot with Dan's daughter Violet, played by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit and Ender's Game), was simple, but it had a sweet climax. The movie doesn't end like one would assume. The end credits even contain a joke, which probably embodies Carney's true spirit behind the film.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.