Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity
Running time: 104 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Greta (Keira Knightley) followed her college sweetheart (Adam Levine) to Manhattan when he was signed to a lucrative record deal with a major music label. However, the overnight fame went to Dave’s head and he soon started to stray. This development signaled not only the end of their romantic relationship but the demise of their promising partnership as songwriters, too.
Nevertheless, Greta is still very talented in her own right, which she readily proves when pushed by a pal to perform at a Greenwich Village dive on open mic night. The haunting strains of “A Step You Can’t Take Back” catch the ear of Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a legendary talent scout who happens to be sitting in the audience.
He proceeds to imagine how great Greta would sound accompanied by a full band instead of simply by her acoustic guitar. So, right after the diamond in the rough steps offstage, he offers to help turn her into the next singing sensation.
But Greta is initially reluctant for a couple of logical reasons. First of all, she’d just decided to abandon her silly pipe dream of superstardom and was on brink of moving back to England. Secondly, the solicitous stranger standing in front of her reeks of alcohol and looks homeless, and nothing like a veteran A&R exec.
Truth be told, disheveled Dan is in the dumps because he was recently fired from Distress Records by the Harvard classmate (Mos Def) he’d co-founded the company with. Furthermore, he’s being missing his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) since being kicked out of the house a year ago.
In fact, he was actually contemplating suicide until Greta’s voice gave him a new reason to live. Well, will he be able to revive his career and launch Great’s simultaneously, or will the ambitious endeavor fail miserably? And, will the two fall in love, despite the age difference, or might they merely return to their respective exes? Those are the alternate scenarios contemplated by Begin Again, an absorbing, character-driven, musical drama written and directed by John Carney.
The movie is most reminiscent of Carney’s earlier offering Once, which won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Song (“Falling Slowly”) en route to the Broadway stage where it subsequently swept the Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Begin Again similarly revolves around a pair of losers down on their luck whose close collaboration yields a cornucopia of mellifluous melodies.
Who knew that Keira Knightley could carry a tune let alone in such a dulcet tone? Or that she was capable of generating palpable screen chemistry? Kudos are also in order for her top-flight, supporting cast, especially Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Mos Def, James Corden, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld and CeeLo Green.
An enchanting musical adventure amounting to the best kept cinematic secret of the summer! At least until now.