Susan Granger's review of 'Begin Again'
Having experienced success with "Once" (2006), Irish writer/director John Carney does the same story twice, repeating the poignant formula of having two broken-hearted people bonding over music. This time, it's a sweet-but-insecure songwriter/singer, Greta (Keira Knightly), and a self-destructive, cash-strapped recording executive, Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo).
Greta moved from London to Manhattan to be with her American boyfriend/songwriting partner, Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), who, almost overnight, catapults into a major recording artist and, subsequently, dumps her for another woman.
Disconsolately singing in a dingy bar one night at the urging of her busker friend Steve (James Corden), Greta is spotted by Dan, who has managed to alienate his business partner Saul (Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def), ex-wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Inspired by Greta's raw authenticity, Dan convinces her to collaborate with him on a demo album that's recorded, guerrilla-style, throughout New York, incorporating the ambient sounds of the city.
Problem is: she has no desire to be rich and famous; she just wants to share her music with the world.
As in "Once," these characters are caught between achieving their personal ambition and maintaining their professional integrity. There are the now-predictable scenes depicting Greta and Dan sharing playlists, singing impromptu and improvisational composing. The most imaginative sequence occurs when Dan first spies Greta singing solo and imagines a fully orchestrated arrangement around her.
While affable Ruffalo does rumpled authentically, Knightly seems far too sophisticated to pull off naivete. That's where the film falters. The press notes indicate that Knightly actually does the whispery singing but her lips don't quite sync up
with the sound, which was obviously recorded, not on the
mean streets, but in a studio with compositions by New
Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander.
Originally, the title was "Can a Song Save Your Life?" which would have been far more apt for Carney's tribute to the healing powers of music.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Begin Again" is a bittersweet 6. "Once" again -- buy the soundtrack.