John Carney, breakout director of Once, is back with a redemptive tale of love and redefinition; unfortunately Begin Again takes a while time to find its rhythm. Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a music producer/record label owner that's been fired; Greta (Keira Knightly) has just been dumped by her famous musician boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine); when Greta goes to an open mic night and performs, a drunken Dave in the audience sees her untapped potential and offers to collaborate to get her music out there. Begin Again opens with two separate threads of the lives of Greta (Knightly) and Dan (Ruffalo) resolving how they got to their chance meeting; and it's the most arduous slog of the film. For Ruffalo, it's having to play an unceremonious fall to a near rock bottom; and Knightly it's having to bury the lead on her partner's infidelity/departure. Dan's life, largely due to the fantastic actors portraying his ex wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) has you vastly more invested than Adam Levine's insipid and weak Dave. It's Carney having to create the conditions for the frenetic, vibrant and and restorative collaboration that's depicted from that point. Carney has an innate sense of how to integrate the incidental music and the music being made in the film in an organic way. The purity of art Greta and Dan's undulated and organic approach is as heartwarming as it is toe-tapping.
Mark Ruffalo is an incredible presence and when he's able to bring the audience close to admire the nuance in how he's able to portray the conflict within Dan; however Carney, the writer/director, seems to have had the directive to sketch Dan as a larger than life, bastion of the dying music industry. The larger the performance the less connection you feel with Dan. Knightly's Greta is great because she's a character that doesn't become a slave to impulse. She's beautiful, uncompromising, sweet and although she has a handle on the futures, like imagined highways that lay before her, she seems determined to do it her way.
After the drunken, Halloween 'Lord of the Rings' dwarf cosplay level of beard work that's applied to Adam Levine's face; I'm going to have to prescribe every hair and make up artist that worked on the film to watch True Detective before working again. Levine is an asset to Begin Again simply for his undeniable musical talent. I'm actually not sure that Hailee Steinfeld could possibly be bad in anything. She's a formidable presence for a young actor that often outshines her adult counterparts. It totally makes sense for her mother to be played by the effortlessly brilliant Catherine Keener.
Begin Again is a delight, not only because of its infectious musical vitality but because it follows the unexpected forks in the road.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Director: John Carney Writer: John Carney Starring: Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden, Catherine Keener, Cee Lo Green