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
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.
Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine