Am I going a bit soft? Do I sometimes get sucked into the sentimentality? I guess to some level on that last one, because most everything about John Carney’s “Begin Again” signals me that I should despise it. But instead, I was utterly charmed. Carney, of course, had an ultra low-budget success story with 2007’s “Once”. That film won the Oscar for Best Original Song, which saw the adorable co-winner, Marketa Irglova charm everyone with her “two-tiered” acceptance speech. But is writer/director Carney a one-trick pony with this 2nd film about putting an album together? I guess no more than Quentin Tarantino is–and he’s been called it more than one time (it is NOT, an assessment I agree with, btw).
There are some other factors that save “Begin Again”, however, and it involves both of our principal actors. One is the indispensable Mark Ruffalo as Dan, the burnt-out, alcoholic, music industry executive, estranged from his teenage daughter, separated from his wife, and clambering through his middle-aged existence in a drunken haze. The other factor is the absolutely stunning and irresistible Keira Knightley, who I’ve become incredibly infatuated with, and the star I’ve recently declared the most beautiful face in movies today. She’s sold herself to me as an actress these last few years too. Just recently 30, Ms. Knightley, lately, seems to do no wrong.
So, yes…the simple tale about a record producer trying to “keep it real”, during a cynical era in popular music, and a lost young performer named Gretta (Ms. Knightley) who struggles to find her way, after being abandoned in New York City, after her rock star boyfriend leaves her for another woman–spoke to me somehow. It’s not exactly original storytelling, but I was enthralled with how they put Gretta’s album together bare bones, using natural street sounds of the big city as background noise. And I responded to Dave attempting to save his fragile marriage to Miriam (the amazing Catherine Keener), while also trying to make amends, for his emotional abandonment of daughter, Violet (an almost all-grown-up, Hailee Steinfeld).
So freaking sue me. And if Carney does this a 3rd time, maybe I won’t get bamboozled. I liked how he presented the opening scene, three separate times, from 3 different perspectives. And I appreciated how he cast real music performers in big parts, smaller roles, as well as cameos (Adam Levine, Yasiin “Mos Def” Bey, and CeeLo Green). “Begin Again” is sweet and sappy, but also lovely and infectious. Even the casting of James Corden as the chubby, asexual, reliable best friend didn’t bother me all that much. Okay, maybe a little bit. But, overall, “Begin Again” is a winner. Unless you believe, that John Carney has now managed to fool me twice. I will not defend myself all that vociferously.