10 November 2014

DVD Review - Begin Again (2014)


Genre:
Drama,Comedy
Distributor:
Entertainment One UK
DVD Release Date:
10th November 2014
Rating: 15
Running Time:
104 minutes
Director:
John Carney
Cast:
Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, James Corden, Adam Levine
Buy:Begin Again [DVD] [2014]

The cover for Begin Again promises an “infectiously feel good” movie. Normally, those kind of empty, poster-whorish endorsements stick in my craw, but after watching the film, I can't help but agree. Fans of writer/director John Carney's previous film Once will know what to expect, but for the rest of you, I done wrote some words down on that particular topic, innit.

Begin Again tells the story of Gretta (Keira Knightley), a singer-songwriter who has just endured a nasty break-up with fellow musician Dave (Adam Levine), which leaves her lost and miserable in the unfamiliar surroundings of New York. She is cajoled into playing one of her songs at an open mic night by old friend Steve (James Corden), Dan (Mark Ruffalo) a disgraced music exec happens to hear and immediately wants to sign her. After some initial reluctance, the pair start recording a demo album without a studio, recording live and outdoors in various parts of the city. As conventional as all that may sound, Begin Again almost goes out of its way to defy tropes and labels. It's an unusual, but well-constructed film that focuses on both characters equally and pulls some neat tricks like rewinding the clock twice to show both characters' emotional states leading up to the pivotal open mic performance. Both Knightley and Ruffalo bring their A games and end up being endearingly earnest. Gretta is a bruised soul, but she's not a victim. Knightley plays her perfectly and it's her best performance in recent memory. Ruffalo nailed shambling charm a long time ago and he uses it to great effect here. He's genuinely funny too and there are a few lightly comedic bits that work beautifully. The supporting cast are fun. Adam Levine surprised me by being a decent actor. In a similar way, James Corden surprised me by not being annoying. Mos Def has a good turn as Dan's label partner, the ever-reliable Catherine Keener is great as Dan's estranged wife and Cee Lo Green shows up and gives a solid performance.

For a film all about the power of music, Begin Again always feels genuine and never strays into cloying saccharine territory. It's as much a musical as anything else, with characters expressing their thoughts and feelings through song- the only difference being there are no choreographed dance numbers to go with it. There's a simple joy to everything and it's nice to know that even after sitting through countless vacuous, supposedly “uplifting” films there's the odd one that can still claw its way through the blackened crusty shell of my heart and prod the gooey stuff within. It's a celebration of life, love and music and I bought into it. I just hope my enemies never find out a way to use this information against me.

The songs are nice too. Many of them are catchy numbers sung (rather sweetly I may add) by Knightley herself. Only trouble I had with them was that they were slightly at odds with one of the film's messages.Y'see Dave is a bastard because he's sold out to the studios (and cheated on Gretta, blah blah blah) and plays polished, overproduced pop but Gretta's songs didn't sound that different to me. With the gimmick of using the city as a recording studio and her playing from the heart songs, there should be a gulf between his corporate sell-out singles and her honest tracks. I mean, of course the film's songs were recorded in a studio in reality, but still. To me, it weakens the anti-corporate stuff (which wasn't the film's strongest suit anyway) and makes that particular element kind of toothless.

However, all that is nowhere near enough to spoil a genuinely touching and charming film. It's a comforting but not pandering experience. I really enjoyed it and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, even if you're the sort of person that's put off by this “sort of film”

★★★★

Ben Browne


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