After losing his job, alcoholic record-producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) stumbles into a bar and discovers a young, English singer named Greta (Keira Knightley). She is recovering from a messy break-up with her boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) and is ready to leave New York behind. Dan convinces her to stay so that they can record an album together. With no money and lots of ideas, Dan and Greta take to the streets and so begins an unlikely friendship that could end up saving them both.
In 2006 writer/director John Carney wowed audiences with his musical drama Once. His new project is nothing short of genius – a film that progresses his love for music on film with a keen eye for romantic drama. A textured tapestry of melody and regret peppers this involving storyline and gives us a worthy underdog story to champion. Fading in with delicate situation comedy and some amazing music and you have the perfect collaboration of style and substance. This makes Begin Again one of the undoubted highlights of 2014.
The film has many positives but its biggest success lies with Mark Ruffalo, who brings an energy and enthusiasm to the role that’s captivating to see unfold. His sheer passion for the role of Dan is inspirational and instantly wins you over. Keira Knightley surprises us all with a performance of consummate strength that showcases a new musical side to the English rose. She has a remarkable voice that perfectly soundtracks much of the movie and her chemistry with Ruffalo positively sparks onscreen.
The supporting cast are all superb with Adam Levine doing great work as Greta’s old boyfriend Dave. CeeLo Green cameos as himself and is always a joy to watch with Mos Def equally as funny as Dan’s former music partner Saul. James Cordon defies the odds with a supporting turn that’s both relevant and funny and both Catherine Keener and Hailee Steinfeld manage to steer their roles as Dan’s ex-wife and daughter away from cliché.
The soundtrack is stunning and features a whole host of diverse, involving music that helps the narrative blossom. The novel concept of recording an album on the streets of New York presents lots of opportunity to have fun with the process. This is where the location shoots really play their role. This is New York like New Yorkers live it. Sure, there are famous landmarks dotted around (the rooftop overlooking The Empire State Building is a particular highlight) but for the most part, Begin Again revels in the authenticity of the streets we aren’t overly familiar with. It takes in the urban beauty of amazing locations scattered across the city, especially in the Lower East Side.
So the performances and the music are a large part of why Begin Again works so well as a film, but with Carney at the helm he really makes this a stand-out, special project. He knows exactly what he wants from the story and more importantly, he knows how to extract that essence of magic with scenes of real inner-beauty. The montage of Ruffalo and Knightley taking to the streets whilst listening to music on her phone is utterly gorgeous and one of the best scenes you’ll see this year. It perfectly captures the wonder and intimacy of New York at night.
Ruffalo drunkenly piecing together a band arrangement in his head during Knightley’s acoustic number really nails exactly what it’s like to be in love with music too. It’s one of the best visual interpretations of sound affecting the soul that you’ll ever see on-screen. Carney also doesn’t feel the need to manufacture romance, allowing his story to take you there without unnecessary circumstance. Even his use of timelines warrants special mention, with the film reliving the same timeframe through the eyes of different people, ending in a complete, cohesive narrative that’s really impressive.
Begin Again is an utter joy from start to finish. It’s a film made for music lovers and really channels exactly what you feel like when a piece of music moves you. With its delightful blend of romance, drama and comedy that will hook you in from the start, this is a perfect fell-good movie that you really cannot afford to miss.