Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music
Directed by: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, James Corden
“If music be the food of love, play on.” It’s a wonder when you realize just how relatable this age-old phrase remains. For even if your knowledge on the medium doesn’t quite hit the high notes, music will always be a source of great emotional influence to every single one of you. Melancholic melodies can effortlessly stir strong emotions. While up-beat anthems can impart warmth, happiness and even have the power to inspire. It is in to this latter category that John Carney’s latest ballad so joyously falls.
With echoes of Once still playing in his head, Carney composes another tale of strangers who are brought together by music, but transports it from the streets of Dublin to New York’s skyline. Gretta is an aspiring songwriter who has just split from her rock star boyfriend, and Dan is a once successful music producer recently fired by his company. Apart they are two lonely souls who want to escape the tyranny of their situations, but once a chance encounter brings them together both Gretta and Dan see a harmonic opportunity to reinvigorate their lives.
Those worried that, with higher production values and a starrier cast, Carney would loose sight of what made his seminal picture so organic and engaging have little to worry about. Though it is true that Begin Again fails to embody the same naturalistic atmosphere that made Once so powerful and poignant, it comes equipped with bucket loads of appeal thanks to its almost perfectly pitched cast, appealing premise and the eternally golden hue of New York in summer.
Between them Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightly manage to entirely involve you within their story of musical salvation, with Knightly bringing particular flair to her role. Guided by the sure hand of Carney’s words and direction, both performers effortlessly drive this tale with tremendous warmth and wit, their natural chemistry and assured professionalism ensuring that the film never strays in to over-romanticised territory. It is through this confident avoidance of sentimentality that Begin Again’s delightful charm begins to shine through, sweeping you in to this magically musical cosmos with ease and effortlessly planting a huge smile on your face.
Much of this is achieved by Carney himself. His script intelligently succeeds in making some astute comments on the creative decline of the music industry and his narrative is fused with honest and touching observations on the nature of different relationships, but he never lets it effect the film’s everlastingly upbeat tone. Throughout, the script is infused with moments of genuine wit, mainly thanks to James Cordon’s commendable charisma, as well as a number of fun and catchy tunes, many performed with an intoxicating vigour by Knightly.
Then there’s the New York setting, which no matter how many times you see it continues to hypnotically hold your gaze. Yaron Orbach’s cinematography always allows for the magic of the music to be defined on the screen, but it is when observing the city’s fairy-tale beauty that the camera really comes to life. Truly it is a concrete jungle where dreams are made.
Those hoping for Carney to produce another quietly restrained drama may find themselves disappointed, but for the rest Begin Again will be refreshingly unsentimental feel-good fare. The script oozes charm, the performances remain natural and the songs bop along nicely; play on Mr. Carney, play on.