Begin Again (2014)

Begin AgainStruggling music exec Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is living alone in New York City, estranged from his wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and no longer employed at the independent record label he helped create. While drowning his sorrows he overhears Gretta (Keira Knightley), a musician who is goaded into performing by her friend and fellow singer-songwriter Steve (James Corden). Together they decide to record an album on the streets of New York, recruiting a disparate group of musicians — including Steve and Dan’s daughter Violet — to help them do it. Unlike her boyfriend, Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), who has signed with a label and gone on tour around America, Gretta isn’t interested in fame or fortune, though through the process of recording her album she grows more comfortable performing in public.

Tortured artists are a Hollywood staple, but musicians seem to receive the most attention of all. The Coen Brothers recently received praise for Inside Llewyn Davis, a film that sought to capture the loneliness and frustrations of an aspiring musician. The film was unrelenting, driving home the fact that Llewyn was self-destructive, down on his luck and most likely doomed to fail. For a while it seems as though Begin Again is going to follow suit and be another joyless pity parade of missed opportunities and terrible life choice — when we meet Dan he too is self-destructive, down on his luck and most likely doomed to fail — it isn’t long before director John Carney’s breaks the cycle and sends his character down a different path.

Gretta may love to sing, she may even have flirted with the big time thanks to her boyfriend Dave’s success, but she is very much a realist at heart. She is relatively stable, sensible and secure, and is under no illusion that her hobby is going to pay the rent or lead anywhere at all. When Dan offers her a contract — admittedly a contract that he is in no position to honour– she doesn’t rush to accept but politely declines and, when pressed, asks for some time to think. Both characters have their ups and downs, but throughout the film there is a level-headedness to each that is as unexpected as it is endearing. Gretta is heartbroken and homeless, but she doesn’t dwell on either, while Dan and ex-wife Miriam may be separated but are still civil to one another. You brace for melodrama and histrionics but for the most part they never come.

Whereas Llewyn Davis was a slave to music, Gretta is a master of it. She uses song to communicate with people, to express herself and — in one of the film’s funniest scenes — to get back at those who have wronged her. It’s not a chore, a calling or a cross to bear but a gift. This is reflected in the songs themselves; written by a team of songwriters including Carney himself, the songs are incredibly catchy but by no means key to the film’s success. The songs are written offscreen, the band is formed without fuss (CeeLo Green donates a drummer) and the tracks are recorded at the musicians’ convenience, meaning that the narrative is able to concern itself with more important things. Knightley and Ruffalo have terrific chemistry, but this is no romantic comedy; free from agenda or dramatic tension, their encounters are wonderfully flippant and informal. Again, they seem to favour sense over romance.

Sweet without being sentimental, moving without being miserable and offbeat without being offputting, Begin Again is a refreshingly laid-back look at the life of an artist. Likeable performances from Knightley, Ruffalo and even Corden coupled with a catchy soundtrack and witty script make it a joy to watch.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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