Begin Again review: Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo make beautiful musicMovies
Trailer: Begin Again
A dejected music business executive forms a bond with a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan.PT2M27S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-35w11 620 349 April 1, 2014
Begin Again launches itself with a venerable cliche: boy meets girl in a bar and tells her that they’re going to make music together. And she believes him – even though she ends up having to buy their beers.
Writer-director John Carney is not afraid of a cliche. After all, Begin Again is a musical, a genre that has always thrived on them. And he does know how to shape them to his own design, which is low-key and slightly tongue-in-cheek. He likes to craft sly, quiet jokes at the recording industry’s expense and so far they have served him brilliantly. His feature debut, Once (2006), which was set in Ireland, his home country, scored a Grammy for its soundtrack, an Oscar for its theme song and a Tony for its stage adaptation.
Sounds of the city: Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo take to the streets in Begin Again.
Begin Again should do pretty well, too. Once again, the recording industry is subjected to a little wry satire but the prevailing note is joyful. A former bass guitar player with Irish rock group The Frames, Carney is in love with music and its mood-enhancing properties as well as being full of admiration for those who know how to write and arrange it.
Mark Ruffalo’s Dan Mulligan is one of these. He’s just been forced out of the independent record company he founded when he comes across Gretta (Keira Knightley) shyly singing one of her own compositions in a little Manhattan club. We don’t hear what he’s hearing. Knightley’s singing voice doesn’t so much carry a tune as send it fluttering forth soulfully towards an uncertain destination. But as Dan listens, he re-arranges her tentative rendition in his head, supplying a range of backing instruments that elevate it to a melodious new level. It’s a witty and revealing demonstration of the art of the A&R man.
Gretta is cheered by her meeting with Dan but she’s still grieving over the break-up with Dave, played by the rock star Adam Levine, perfectly cast. She and Dave have come to New York together from London because he’s scored a recording contract with a song she wrote for him. And not only is she squeezed out of the deal, she winds up losing him to a smart young female recording executive.
Duet: Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo lay it on a bit thick, but overall they make an appealing couple.
This should set the scene for a new romance with Dan, who’s separated from his wife (Catherine Keener). But Carney’s subtleties persist and the pair’s relationship stalls at the flirting stage while the script concentrates on the healing powers of the music they’re making. Ever the maverick, Dan has decided to take their recording sessions outdoors so that their album will be coloured by the sounds of the city. His rocky relationship with his teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) also begins to improve when he takes up Gretta’s suggestion that he ask her to join the backing musicians.
Looking particularly shaggy and rumpled, Ruffalo occasionally overdoes the hyperactivity and Knightley does the same with her toothy giggle, but they make an appealing couple. I was also glad to see James Corden, who’s one of my favourite British comics thanks to his work on the TV sitcom Gavin and Stacey and the stage hit One Man, Two Guvnors. He’s cast as Gretta’s sweet-natured best friend and confidant and Knightley’s performance is at its most relaxed when she’s sharing scenes with him.
Carney’s inside knowledge of the music industry is artfully displayed in some affectionate parodies. CeeLo Green is very funny as a hip-hop artist whose burly amanuensis accompanies him everywhere in case one of his conversational gambits suddenly blooms into rap. Yasiin Bey, otherwise known as Mos Def, does a smooth job as Dan’s ex-business partner, and Levine is just right as the narcissistic Dave, whose attempts at niceness are even more egregious than his bad behaviour.
The whole thing is suffused with a rosy glow. The business of confecting a hit album is amazingly uncomplicated, if you believe what you see here. But only a churl would object. Carney sews the songs into the storyline with great skill and, like all good musicals, the film achieves an easy, flowing rhythm that is guaranteed to lift the spirits.