Review: BEGIN AGAIN (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Review: BEGIN AGAIN (2014)

4 stars
4 stars
Keira Knightley sings as beautifully as she acts alongside Mark Ruffalo in BEGIN AGAIN, a potent mix of feel-good drama and amazing musical numbers.

First screened at the world premiere in the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival last year, John Carney's highly-anticipated follow-up from ONCE was originally titled as CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE? Personally, I found the original title sounds more natural, rather than the generic new title of BEGIN AGAIN. While the new title doesn't exactly sparks an immediate interest of making you to watch the movie, rest assured that BEGIN AGAIN is another little gem of a charmer from John Carney.


Following the fallout with former business partner and co-founder of the independent music label Distressed Records, Saul (Mos Def), washed-up A&R man Dan (Mark Ruffalo) ends up getting fired from his job for not signing any new artists over the last seven years. His personal life with his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) and estranged wife Miriam (Catherine Keener), in the meantime, is equally a mess as well. Then one night while Dan roams around the city, looking all drunk and depressed, he ends up in a bar and caught a young woman named Gretta (Keira Knightley), singing a song while strumming guitar on stage. Gretta has a sad story of her own, having recently broke up with her rock-singer boyfriend Dave (Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine). From that moment, he knows he finally found the one he's been looking for and decides to sign her immediately. The pair get along well, but instead of recording songs in a typical studio, they decide to go unconventional ways by performing and recording an entire album live on the various parts of New York City.
As proven in 2007's critically-acclaimed ONCE, writer-director John Carney successfully mixes great and affectionate musical numbers that will have you humming the lyrics along, while balancing the movie with easygoing charm of an independent dramedy set in the backdrop of New York City. I also loved the way Carney uses time-shifting narrative to tell the backstories of Dan's and Gretta's personal agendas prior to their eventual encounters. The movie's second half is particularly well-paced and grows progressively interesting to watch for, as Dan and Gretta start making music in a guerilla style around New York City (e.g. back alley, subway, rooftop).

Most of the cast here is appealing and they are no doubt part of the biggest charm that makes the movie so compulsively watchable. Both Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley display great chemistry together. I particularly enjoyed how they bond their relationship together professionally as well as two emotionally-wounded individuals trying to connect to each other through their love of good music. Individually speaking, Ruffalo is magnetic as always but personally, Knightley steals most of the show here with her heartfelt, yet affable charm. Not only that, she sings surprisingly well. While she is far from being an accomplished singer, her soothing voice really caught my attention. The supporting cast, ranging from Mos Def as Dan's ex-business partner Saul, James Corden as Gretta's street-musician best friend Steve, Hailee Steinfeld as Dan's teenage daughter Violet, Catherine Keener as Dan's wife Miriam, Adam Levine as Gretta's boyfriend Dave, to CeeLo Green as a successful hip-hop artist who does Dan a favour by funding Gretta's album, are equally worthwhile.

The beautiful scene where Dan listens to Gretta performs an acoustic version of "Step You Can't Take Back" in a bar while imagining all the musical instruments on stage played by themselves; the first guerrilla-style song performance where Dan assembles a small crew to play musical instruments and street kids as backup singers while Gretta sings "Coming Up Roses" live at the back alley; and the wonderful scene where Dan and Gretta strolls around the city at night while listening to each others' music playlists.

Faring less effective is the conflict that leads to a breakup between Gretta and Dave. In a supposedly pivotal scene where Dave claims he writes a song for her called "Higher Place" while he was on a road tour, Gretta ends up slapping him across the face because she realizes the song is written for someone else entirely. Instead of putting a little more effort to develop that scene which involves a third party that ruined their relationship, director John Carney chooses to leave it as it is and calls it a day. While it could be understandable that Carney ends up doing this to streamline the overall running time, it would be more appreciated if he can introduce the third-party character to make the entire breakup scene all the more plausible and genuinely heartfelt.


Fans who have watched ONCE will definitely fall in love for the second time with BEGIN AGAIN. Minor flaw aside, BEGIN AGAIN is blessed with good acting and equally incredible music that will put a smile on your face long after the credit rolls.

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