Monday, November 3, 2014

Begin Again

By Sati. Monday, November 3, 2014 , , , , , , , , ,
Meet Dan (Mark Ruffalo). Dan's life is not going well at the moment - his marriage collapsed, he can't connect with his teenage daughter, he drinks way too much and he hadn't had a professional success - in his job as a music producer - in 5 years. One evening, after a particularly shitty day, Dan goes to a bar to get drunk. As he is drinking he hears a song. A song sang by a girl named Gretta (Keira Knightley) on the stage. Immediately Dan wants to sing Gretta up. But as things don't go as they planned, the two decide to record a live album in different locations in NYC. As they do that, they start getting closer to each other and finding something that they didn't have in their lives in a long time - joy.

I've never seen Once, John Carney's previous picture. I'm so crushed by Begin Again's ending, having heard Once follows somewhat similar structure I'm not sure I'm ever going to see it. But other than the end the film is exceptionally lovely - it's such a tribute to the love for music, New York City and the idea that no matter how fucked up things get, you can always start again.
I have a lot of respect for Keira Knightley. I may not always like her performances - she was just all kinds of wrong in Anna Karenina - but this girl chooses great roles in so many different things and she always brings so much loveliness to them. Even if the movies she's in don't always work, it's never her fault.

As Gretta Knightley is very, very good - she is sweet, friendly, charming but there's also a certain degree of immaturity to her - just the right amount to fit the script. She is also strong and very relatable and Knightley plays her with such effortless grace. She has a lovely singing voice and while I didn't find any of her songs that memorable, it was a joy to listen to while watching the movie.
If there was any justice, Mark Ruffalo would get nominated next January at Golden Globes for his performance here. It's just such a wonderful mix of drama and comedy - we feel for Dan while he is making an ass of himself in front of his daughter and whenever things go badly for him. But Ruffalo is also so effortlessly funny - like when he jokingly coughs after Gretta puts his asshole of a business partner in his place or when he furiously throws CDs with shit music out of his car.

And he is so energetic - Dan knows music, he loves music - and it shows every single time he reacts to it with such joy and passion. There is so much authenticity here - in every drunken word Dan mumbles to convince Gretta to make a deal with him, in every jump with the guitar he makes when she sings her songs, in every emotion Dan has which we immediately see because he doesn't concern himself with pretending. He's also so likable in spite of being a real mess - here's the guy who had really bad luck for a long time but he is still not afraid to take a chance on Gretta because he knows what she does is real music and she is the real deal.
The film has truly enchanting, romantic and hopeful vibe which exists thanks to all those amazingly lovely ideas - the standout of which is Dan and Gretta listening to her ipod via two different sets of headphones, while they walk around NYC, dancing, laughing, connecting. I haven't seen a scene this romantic in years.

But it wouldn't work without the wonderful chemistry between the leads - Knightley and Ruffalo are such a joy to watch together. Knightley is one of those actresses who can strike romantic chemistry and connection with so many different actors (she also managed to do that with Steve Carrel in Seeking a Friend for the end of the World, which resulted in one of the most gorgeous movie endings you will ever see) and Ruffalo is someone people immediately have chemistry with. These two are just so wonderful together.

I often say that my favorite thing is an actor capturing so much authenticity and real emotion in a single look. And in Begin Again both Knightley and Ruffalo manage to do that. During that wonderful running around, listening to music sequence there is a moment when the two dance and Gretta looks at Dan with so much love and hope. And then in the subway, in the same sequence, Dan looks at Gretta. And there is so much in these looks.
There is also a lovely scene which should probably warn me that this movie will break my heart a bit - the two have an argument during which Dan points out to Gretta that she has no idea what it means to have marriage fall apart after 18 years. Dan walks away and Gretta runs to him - and in something completely different than what we would see in a big American movie we don't see the close up - we see Gretta run to Dan and hold him from behind, in a simple 'I'm sorry, you are right' gesture. The film doesn't make anything easy.

The way I saw it was that we are being served this amazing, lovely dream - these two people who have their hearts broken (Gretta's boyfriend cheated on her) meet. They have this amazing connection, they create something beautiful together. They talk, they laugh, they make each other happy. And then the ending punches you in the heart.
SPOILERS Am I allowed to dislike the ending just because it's not something I wanted to see? Something which I thought made the film worse and had it worked in another way it would be so much more hopeful? I really thought Dan and Gretta would end up together. I thought there is no way two people who obviously have feelings for each other and been through so many lovely moments won't end up being happy together in even more romantic way. And if that was not supposed to be a romance, then what the fuck with the way they look at each other after she hugs him? That was just brutal in the context of the ending.

Dan goes back to his awful, hateful wife who broke his heart. And the film didn't even try to make the wife character sympathetic, there is nothing that could make me go 'maybe she's not bad', while at least the movie tried to come with some excuses for Gretta's ex, it's like Dan's story was an afterthought in the end. And yes perhaps I don't understand and Gretta doesn't understand but it seemed to me it was just going to familiar ways instead of having the courage to go after what could have been real happiness.
I thought the end betrayed the movie and the audience's - well in this case mine - expectations but I liked Gretta driving off after really breaking it off with her boyfriend, hopeful, smiling, proud.  END OF SPOILERS That was a very nice image to end the movie with. And the whole ending - done to the accompaniment of outstanding Lost Stars by Adam Levine which is the best movie song I heard in years was exceptionally well done.

The film isn't perfect and there are some obvious flaws - Adam Levine's not an actor and boy, does it show, he was so bad - but it is very, very charming movie. The music, the lead performances and the individual scenes have so much charm to them. Before the Oscar season begins with all the mandatory heavy, disturbing, intense dramas in which we will see both Ruffalo (in Foxcatcher) and Knightley (in The Imitation Game) go through some horrendous shit - this is the movie to see.

(Begin Again, 2013, 104 minutes)

Plot: A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents.

Director: John Carney
Writer: John Carney
Stars: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine  


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39 comments:

  1. I've been thinking about seeing it but part of the reason I don't want to see it is Adam Levine. I really fucking hate that guy. My beef with him is very personal. Here's why: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6pJMOPJlMI

    If I ever meet him in person. I will beat the holy fucking shit out of him for what he did to my beloved NIN.

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    1. Levine is really bad of an actor but he is not a terrible singer, however that link is....a blasphemy :)

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    2. Exactly which is why I will take his wife and whatever girlfriends he have for me and show them what a dick he really is as I will have no qualms in sending him to Hell!

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    3. Oh man, what if he does it again?:D Human centipede?

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    4. NO!!! WORSE!!!! A torture chamber that I have created that is similar to the one from The Princess Bride except it doesn't suck life. It just goes to see how far do you want to die.

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    5. Wow :) Is anyone allowed to cover NIN then?:D

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  2. Nice review Sati :) Personally, I liked that they (Gretta and Dan) didn't end up together - I felt that the film was about the two of them using music as therapy for their broken relationships, and coming to the conclusion of what they really wanted. For Dan, that was reconciling with his wife and daughter, and for Gretta it was accepting that Adam Levine's character treated her like shit. I found that the ending was one of the strongest aspects, and I'm glad they showed the two characters can 'just be friends'.

    Anyway, like I said, awesome review :) This film hasn't got anywhere near as much love as it deserves. The soundtrack is brilliant, and as luck would have it, I was actually listening to it on the way to work this morning :D

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    1. I could see they were doing that but there was just waaaay too much chemistry between the two of them. That moment when they come back from that lovely music session in the city? Had Gretta's friend not been there...

      I really hope that the nominations for Lost Stars which I'm sure the movie will get are going to encourage people to see that, such a sweet film

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    2. Hi, just want to share what I think. I'm about to write a post about Begin Again. I don't write reviews, I write relationship analysis and your blog is one of the posts that came out of the results.

      I agree with feelingfuzzier about the ending. Dan and Greta had chemistry, but it wasn't romantic chemistry to me. I felt that the chemistry was a tool to have the audience going, believe and root for the characters to end up together, only to disappoint them in the end because John Carney was aiming for the bittersweet ending just like Once had. The Once effect stayed with me because of the ending, but it also became more popular because of what happen to the actors behind the scene. I've mentioned that in my Once post, you can check it out. The charm that Once had wasn't in Begin Again. Begin Again has its own charm and it was natural, but it's not the same with Once and it didn't linger that deep on me.

      Anyway, I want to say more, but if I did, it will defeat the purpose of blogging about the relationship so I'll write what I think there instead.

      I'll just end it with this, just because two people have chemistry, doesn't mean they should end up together. A long-lasting relationship is more than just chemistry.

      If Greta had fallen for him the moment she saw him and had forgotten about Dave right away, then I'll want them to end up together, but she didn't.

      Greta is not a shock absorber, but she was in the movie, and she's certainly not a rebound.

      If you have time, you can check out my blog. It's my ID here.
      Btw, I'm not telling you you're wrong. So I hope you won't take offense of what I said, just sharing.

      So keep writing more movie reviews! :) Your reviews are interesting and useful. I'll definitely come back for more. ;)

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  3. I'm glad you enjoyed this one! However, I must disagree on that ending. If the two had ended up together, I would have hated the entire film, probably... It would have been so forced!

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    1. I thought making Dan go back to his wife in 20sec scene was forced as opposed to entire movie of effortless chemistry with Gretta

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  4. Great review! I really enjoyed this one. The chemistry between Knightley and Ruffalo was charming and natural. I was also expecting them to end up together, but the final shot of Knightley was amazing. There was this shot in the film where they were recording, and Dan was whispering in Greta's ear while she was playing, and she laughed - that was the moment I thought that they might end up together.

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    1. Thank you! YES! That was such a beautiful moment, you could literally see her light up when he moved closer to her.

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  5. Oooh I love your new banner Sati! I've never seen Once before either, but this one sounds good. I'm w/ you about Keira. I don't always like her performances and agree she's wrong for Anna Karenina, but I give her props for trying different types of roles. Sounds like she hits the right note (pardon the pun) here, and Ruffalo is so darn likable, no doubt he's lovely to watch here as well.

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    1. Thank you! He is playing such a funny mess - there is this epic moment in the beginning when he wakes up (shirtless which was a nice addition to the scene), goes to the bathroom, contemplates shaving and just goes back to the bed. So many funny cute moments like that :)

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    2. Awwww, that sounds like a cute scene! Only cute boys can make lazy slobs adorable, he..he.. I could just picture Mark doing that in my mind. Boy sounds like a VERY different role than in Foxcatcher. Btw, the director Bennett Miller said yesterday that Mark is really the heart of the film, and sadly we ran out of time before we could talk more about him.

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    3. He wasn't this lazy, he was just lost :) I hate lazy people but lost ones? Well, sometimes they get found :)

      Yeah I read that bit about him being a heart of the film in several reviews, you even get a vibe of that in trailer, how warm and protective he is. Seems like such a big opposite to Carrel's character.

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  6. I loved the movie, and I know it's not perfect. Effortless grace, that's the word for Keira. I think she's trying too hard before, in mostly period dramas and all. This one I actually liked her and her style.

    It's quite misleading how Dan and Gretta connected through music and have a connection more than that, then it's not going there. But I am glad they're not together, since it will look tacky and predictable.

    Great review.

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    1. I think those indies suit Keira much more. she is just so natural in them. But she was very good in Pride and Prejudice and Atonement.

      I don't think it would be tacky, there were just so many moments between them that screamed it was more than friendship.

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  7. Ooohhh I love your new banner!

    I loved this film, it was so sweet. I really hope the Globes give it some love because it has a lot more competition as the Oscars (though I can see it snagging some Best Original Song nominations)

    Excellent review. :)

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    1. Thank you! This really is the kind of movie that should win Comedy category Globes, lately they just stuff everything in there that is technically drama.

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  8. I fully agree with this review. I pretty much had the exact same experience with the film. My favorite moment was Knightley listening to Levine's new song and slapping him, and him throwing his wine then coming back into the kitchen. That felt very real to me (even if, yeah, Levine's acting was spotty). And I thought Ruffalo was a riot. "Babe...babe...babe."

    SPOILERS - But the ending was very similar to Once (which was... odd), and I agree, it felt cheap that he went back to his wife, because she had not one redeemable quality to her (that we saw, at least). But maybe that's what the title is all about. Forget everything you've been through and, you know, begin again. Or something.

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    1. Thank you! That's so awesome that I'm not the only one who thought that whole Dan goes back to his wife thing was just a lazy plot solution.

      That scene with Keira and Levine you mentioned was so good. She was wonderful in the film, showed the character's anger and heartbreak so well.

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  9. From my perception, romance was never allowed to enter their relationship. The closest it got almost culminated upon their return to Gretta's apartment after their great music walk but was quickly shot down by her roommate being there. This didn't seem to bother the characters very much though. They bonded through their life situations towards a musical goal they both shared and through that grew as people and friends. Dan redeemed his edge in the music business and did so by his own unique and genuine approach...returned to being a better father, reduced his alcohol abuse, got his job back, etc. and Gretta was a force in all of that by just being who she is. Through working with Dan, Gretta's musical achievement was the exact opposite of Adam Levine's (he wasn't a character lol). He was molded by a record company and got drunk in fame and lost the genuineness for music he and Gretta originally shared. Adam sleeping with someone else solidified this metaphorically. He lost Gretta and fully committed to fame. In the end he truly envied Gretta's personal and genuine album that she did how she wanted to do and it was a representation of the genuine woman Gretta is. At no point did it really come off as a love story to me. Maybe I'm odd? lol. Once was much more bittersweet to me as love of one another was more clearly a driving force and part of the story. I could be way off here. It could have easily been a love story but it just never seemed like that to me with both characters actively keeping their ex's in their lives through the entire story. I think it is important to remember how much older Dan is. That could be a piece of it as well. Even their walk together with the headphone splitter seemed like more of a reminder to Dan of why he loved his wife than why he should love Gretta. It was a moment that made him fall in love with his wife, not a genuine new experience with Gretta. I don't think most new lovers want to knowingly reenact how they fell in love with their ex lover. Dan wanted to fix his family in the end and Gretta rightfully cut ties. This is a seemingly happy ending to me.

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    1. For me the romance was there - the way they looked at each other, the joy they gave one another. That moment at her apartment when her friends interrupt was seriously like that one final bump before the characters get together in the movie near the end of the film. The film was trying to play it against the usual way things go in films but the chemistry between the leads was far too strong for that.

      For me the age difference is absolutely non existant in most situations in movies and in real life when it comes to love. 18 years is nothing. And it was absolutely nothing here given what we saw and how they bonded. He may have that whole marriage drama and he has a point about Gretta not knowing about marriage and how hard it is but in terms of making each other happy and being attracted to one another age was a non issue here as it should be.

      The important thing is to remember how they both loved the music - they bonded through that in that scene. The wife wasn't there in any way of form he was not thinking of her and that's kinda clear from how he calls Gretta his pearl and look at her.

      It's cool that people have different reactions to the story but for me it was a great build up to wonderful romance that cheated in the end just for the sake of being edgy.

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  10. Yay! Glad you liked this one. The end bothered me a little. Maybe the film just needed a little more perspective on Dan and his wife's relationship. Clearly there was something between them that went wrong, but the spark seems to be reignited when Dan becomes more involved with his daughter and when Dan and his wife listen to music together at the end. We don't get all the details, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film overall.

    The end does resemble that of Once, which is one of my all-time favorite films. It has better music and a more bittersweet love story. If BA's ending bothered you, I'd stay away from Once.

    And I agree on Lost Stars. I hope it wins all the awards! :)

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    1. Yeah they really didn't make her sympathetic at all and she was the one who cheated! Comparing to his amazing chemistry with Gretta his choice was so odd.

      Oh I'm definitely staying away from it :)

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  11. NO!!!!

    1st) Your review kicks my review's ass and I hate that...
    2nd) I'm only partially kidding about the above comment
    3rd) That Closer cover linked in Steven's comment is making me want to vomit.
    4th) YOU MUST SEE ONCE!!!

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    1. I can't see Once - my idea for romance is - they kiss and everything is fine :) I cannot handle any other ending as of late.

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    2. UGH, but...it's so beautiful! It is sad, but not in a way that makes you mourn...because there is this bond, this undeniable place in their hearts that will always be with that person...but if you couldn't take this ending, you'll have your heart torn out with the ending for Once.

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    3. Yeah I really cannot handle this. I'm fine with a drama ending horribly but a sweet, charming film not ending in the romantic way is just heart wrenching, it's all kinda like Knightley/Lincoln arc in Love Actually where the most romantic thing possible happens and they still don't end up together. Just horrible!

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  12. I am a fan of Ruffalo. Knightley is a bit more hit and miss. However, having enjoyed "Once" I think this is something I'm likely to warm to. Good read.

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    1. Thanks! It really is a lovely movie, Keira was very good here

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  13. They did love each other, and love doesn't always have to lead to romance to be realized. Did you see how he smiled when he received the splitter. He knew that is was a gift from the heart from someone who really knew him.

    He loved his wife. There was a look he through her way at one point where his face suddenly clouded with intense heartbreak. He still loved her. As for his wife, how do find her hateful? She was justifiably disdainful of him as a father (he picked up his daughter at school while drunk driving). But the look she gave him in the shower showed she still had feelings for him.

    As for Gretta, should would have been a fool to suddenly start a romantic relationship with an alcoholic while she was on the rebound. Such foolish moves only "work" in romantic movies, and they only "work" until the closing credits.

    So, in my humble opinion, this movie wasn't about romance but about real life love.

    (Sorry to chime is so late. I just saw the movie finally and happened by here. Truth is I was interested in what people thought about the shake of the head Adam Levine gave to Gretta at the end. Did it mean "You were right" as some people think, or did it mean "Get out of here" in a replay of his previous breakup -- which would account for her expression and, perhaps, her sudden act of growing up.)

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    1. Did you miss the part when she cheated on him and threw her life away? She broke his heart. And she acted as if his heartbreak was his own fault. Those looks they shared where nothing comparing to the looks between Gretta and Dan. And the look he had on his face might have been interpreted as feeling of grief over something that was lost, because his marriage was lost, through no fault of his own. That's why the ending is so cowardly and dumb.

      I'm not sure who do you think you are passing judgment on this being foolish and only working in movies. Do you know such cases in your life? Do you have experiences with someone whose marriage ended? And why would you call Dan an alcoholic? If anything he was recovering in the end of the story. Your comments are horribly ignorant and offensive.

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    2. I really like your reviews it is what I felt too. One thing I did not understand what happen to Gretta's album?

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  14. I just saw this film - don't know how I missed it before, but already know I will watch it again. I wonder if the reviewer has watched it again. This never felt like a romantic comedy to me ... during the scene where the leads were going back to Gretta's apartment to sleep together, but where plans were foiled by the roommate being home, I could only think WHEW! It was obvious to me Dan wanted his family back. Yep, his wife cheated on him two years before, but it was his own subsequent meltdown that cost him his home, strained his relationship with his daughter ("Two years is kind of a long time, Dad.", and ultimately lost his place in his company. There were several scenes where I saw ongoing interest between husband and wife - she took another look after he stepped into the shower, he shared her cigarette and then left with it, he really wanted her to come to Gretta's recording session, he introduces her as his wife, etc. There was terrific chemistry between Keira and Mark, but to me Gretta and Dan just read better as friends than lovers. She was heartbroken after her boyfriend of five years had cheated on her and ultimately left her to be with another woman....if she had tumbled into bed with Dan, I did not think that would end well.

    The common theme between Once, Begin Again, and the relationship the reviewer references from Love, Actually is this: if one of the characters is married, they are going to stay married. I don't think that is an unhappy ending.

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    1. Excellent Review, and the most satisfactory Reply! I think the Review and this Reply together completed the movie experience for me :)

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  15. My take on Dan's going back to his wife was that it was really about being there for his daughter. He clearly loves Gretta but understands that choosing her means never fully mending his relationship with his daughter. The movie doesn't try to "soften" the wife for us because we need to see that he is making a sacrifice to be there for his kid.
    Just my 2c...

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