Brief Thoughts: Begin Again
I really enjoy putting my reviews together. I honestly wish I could delve deeper into certain movies, but alas, I get incredibly busy and can sometimes only deal with movies to a briefer extent than I would prefer. This is why I write these occasional "Brief Thoughts" posts on movies I have seen, as I want to at least offer some of my own perspective on them. They may not be as polished, but I can at least get my opinions out there. The following is a brief review of Begin Again.
Begin Again: 3 out of 5
Here is the story of two people stuck at a point in their in life, while living in New York. Mark Ruffalo is Dan, a struggling record label executive who is both bored with the lack of imagination currently on display in the music industry, while also having a tough time keeping in contact with his estranged wife and daughter (they are played by Catherine Keener and Hailee Steinfeld). Kiera Knightley is Gretta, a woman who has been dumped by her boyfriend (Adam Levine), because his breakout success has turned him into a fame-seeking rock star. The two meet at a bar, after Gretta publicly sings a song and Dan envisions a whole musical number around her. In bringing these two together, the film puts them on a journey to create an album through the eccentric means of recording all over New York to help bring it to life.
Begin Again (originally titled Can A Song Save You Life, which is much better) is the kind of film that seems to strive for a reaction that consists of, "Oh, that was nice." There is a decent story at work and a great soundtrack put on display, as we get almost 8 songs played in full, during the film. The problem amounts to how obvious it all seems. The soundtrack is obviously great, because this film has talented people performing the songs and a lot of time spent developing them. The story is nice, because writer/director John Carney, of Once fame, is clearly capable of providing the semblance of emotion combined with an effort to show how people can share their appreciation for something, such as music. The acting is strong, because one expects people like Mark Ruffalo and Kiera Knightley to provide decent performances. Unfortunately, while I think Begin Again is fine, overall, I don't see much weight behind it, compared to something like Once. Call it an unfortunate effect of having more pull, due to previous success, but the assets this film may believe it has ends up robbing Begin Again of the fresh spirit it may think it is putting on display. All that ends up left is a cute movie that just feels kind of...nice.
Part of the issue is Carney's insistence on having grander narrative ambitions than seem necessary. As we learn the background of these characters, we get flashbacks that lead to flashbacks within flashbacks, which is never confusing, but it does feel like the film is piling on a level of complexity, masked as ingenuity, that is just not needed. Really though, it just became kind of hard to accept the film for what it was, during segments such as one that features Ruffalo and Knightley roaming around New York, while wearing headphones, so they can rock out together. I am not opposed to believing in these kinds of situations, but whether it is the approach or something else I can't quite put my finger on, I did not find Begin Again to be anything more than cute, which is a shame, because I did really admire Once.
The film's music is quite good though. It was enough to keep me involved in the story, let alone the general admiration I have for Ruffalo in full slacker mode and an enjoyable Knightley performance, regardless of her singing abilities, which I think works for the film. The film has an energy to it that makes it worth checking out for those with interest. It is certainly not a miss, just a fairly large step down after a great debut from Carney.