I had heard that Begin Again was an Americanized version of the movie Once, which was not a particularly inviting prospect. I mean, I liked the 2006 movie about an Irish busker quite a bit, but didn’t need to see a variation. But Begin Again is largely a different thing, though it does share the fact that music is being performed outdoors, and has the same writer/director, John Carney.
Dan, a music-business executive (Mark Ruffalo) who drinks too much, sees the performance of Gretta, a shy young singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley), and visualizes what her music could sound like in the right hands. Unfortunately, he’s burned a few bridges with his former label partner Saul (Mos Def, billed as Yasiin Bey). So they have to be a bit more creative to realize their vision.
As the story develops, you might think you know why Dan is separated from his wife Miriam (Catherine Keener, who my wife knows I have a crush on) and is only a part-time dad to Violet (Hailee Steinfeld, star of the True Grit remake), but it’s more complicated. Even more so, Gretta’s back story before she ends up crashing on the sofa of her friend Steve (James Corden) is much richer, involving her partnership with Dave (Adam Levine), and is not what one might have expected. The movie also features Cee Lo Green as Dan’s old music colleague Troublegum.
I saw Knightley on The Daily Show a few weeks ago, and she told Jon Stewart that in her last 10 movies, her character dies seven or eight times. This is a nice change of pace. She sings more than adequately, though no particular song, save for the first one, I remember that well.
There are contrivances here and there, and the movie does develop a certain let’s-put-on-a-show vibe, as though it were a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney film, so I suppose it’s not as fresh as Once. Still, you feel as though Dan and Gretta earned their chance to…(see title).