Music and movies can make a great couple when the right filmmaker is at the controls. Music can elevate scenes inside a flick and take them to another place while transforming the film from a visual pleasure into something with feeling and emotion. John Carney provided audiences with a taste of this wicked combination with Once, a film about two Irish singers who fall in love during the production of an album. It was also about two lost souls coming together and using every ounce of ability they had in order to recapture their lives. Carney takes that easy going formula and broadens the horizons with Begin Again, a tremendously heartfelt film starring Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley. He switches the locale from London to New York and inserts real life musicians Adam Levine and Ceelo Green into the fold.
The plot is simple. Dan Mulligan(Ruffalo) is a down on his luck music producer and he is on the edge of dropping everything when he stumbles into a bar and hears Greta(Knightley) spinning an acoustic to a clearly uninterested bar of young souls. Carney is a genius here, as he shows Dan coming to the center of the room, drunk and staggering yet clearly inspired and feeling rejuvenated. Greta is simply sitting on a stool singing while producing some light rhythm with the guitar, but Dan sees the drums kicking up in his head and he pictures a cello and violin getting involved into the process. Right before our eyes, Carney is showing us how a simple page of lyrics and a voice can be the beginning of something special. As he tells Greta later, this is where greatness happens and one can see clearly. When you are your lowest point, drunk and seemingly out of options. Dan sees something in Greta and together, they do something nobody has done before. Create a live album around New York City. Everything else is icing on the cake.
The dialogue produced by Carney is spot on. It’s brutal, real and doesn’t ignore the cutthroat mindset that many people run into when working in the music industry. The cast handles it extremely well, with Hailee Steinfield, Catherine Keener, and Mos Def contributing solid supporting work along with Levine in a role that may not turn him into a movie star but reveals that there is more to him than Maroon 5. James Corden provides the epic comic relief as Greta’s friend from London who makes NYC seem a little less serious. Corden is a Tony Award winning performer and brings an array of abilities to the table.