Begin Again

Directed By: John Carney

Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden, Cee Lo Green, Catherine Keener, and Mos Def

This year has yielded some solid films, but it undoubtedly pales in comparison to 2013, and even more so to 2012.  We just haven't had a consistent wave of quality films hitting the box office.  As we approach the Fourth of July holiday weekend, I hope we have a few solid summer flicks in the works.  The first film I've opted to tackle on this big movie weekend is John Carney's Begin Again.  Interestingly enough, Carney is tackling another industry where creativity, originality, and, by extension, quality are largely missing as well, the music business.

Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a washed up record label executive, is down on his luck.  His longtime partner Saul (Mos Def) fires him from the very label he helped found back in 1992.  His relationships with his teen daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) and his estranged wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) are less than strong.  British singer-songwriter Greta (Keira Knightley) is having equally as much trouble.  Having recently moved to New York with her boyfriend and songwriting partner Dave (Adam Levine), she quickly gets a lesson on how music stars can lose themselves in the bright lights and adoring fans.  Though marginalized by their record label, the nail in the coffin for Greta is when she learns Dave cheats on her while in Los Angeles on a trip.

Ending her relationship with Dave, Greta turns to her friend Steve (James Corden) for a place to stay.  He takes her to a club where he's performing that night and invites her to the stage to perform one of her songs.  There, her performance draws an anemic response from the crowd, except for one drunk producer who hears the song that saves his life.  Recognizing Greta's talent, Dan approaches her and makes it clear that he'd like to work with her.  The film chronicles the pair embarking on a musical journey to find a new sound by recording an outdoor album all over New York City.

As a guy in my twenties who has steered away from the subpar music landscape of today, I wholeheartedly believe that the industry has gone to hell.  A film for music aficionados, the sugary Begin Again shows us the path to find the new pearls of this endangered art today.  Director John Carney endows the film with a certain rhythmicity and soul that drive every aspect of the film.  With a rich soundtrack loaded with fresh tunes and a pair of solid performances from his cast, Carney overcomes some of the expected pitfalls of the film, namely a predictable narrative and clich├ęs galore.  Moreover, Begin Again is a passive critique of the sad state of the music business today.

Above all else, the calling card of Begin Again is its authenticity.  Even though it's a feel-good movie, Carney manages to ensure that the music has an original sound while also paying homage to the greats of the past such as Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder.  What ties the songs of Begin Again to our great musical heritage is the surge of creativity that pulsates through each and every selection throughout the movie.  The songs featured in the film are recorded on real instruments.  They allow for spontaneity and improvisation.  They're the product of meaningful collaborations.  This is everything that the music of today is not, and it's exactly what gives the film its authentic feel.

Bruce Banner and Elizabeth Swann make for a great pairing in Begin Again.  For his part as the crazy music exec Dan, Mark Ruffalo gives us a tortured, self-loathing character who often feels sorry for himself.  What's impressive about his performance is that what most would perceive to be a dramatic anchor in the role of Dan is something Ruffalo turns into a comedic strength.  By using lots of self-effacing humor, Ruffalo offers moviegoers one likable loser.  For her part as Greta, Keira Knightley imbues the film with a certain warmth.  Beyond just her acting, however, Knightley shows off her vocals throughout the movie.  From what I've heard in Begin Again, she doesn't have the world's greatest singing voice, but there's a beautiful rawness and fragility that are accentuated by the instrumentals in each and every selection she performs throughout the movie.  Together, Ruffalo and Knightley make for one dynamic on-screen duo.

In Begin Again, Carney has delivered exactly the kind of indie that serves as great counter programming to the action bonanzas in mainstream cinema during this time of year.  It's not a perfect film, but it's certainly enjoyable cinema that harkens back to the days of good music.  If you don't tap your feet to the real music featured in this movie, you've been brainwashed by the garbage of today.  Begin Again gets a strong 0.06% rating.  Have a few mimosas with this one.