If you’re in the mood to see a good film this summer season; one that doesn’t involve transforming robot cars, sexist comedy, or any one of a variety of superheroes, Begin Again may be just the movie you’re looking for. John Carney, the writer/director of the 2006 film Once, is back with another film focusing on two aspiring musicians. This time the setting is New York City and the musicians are Gretta (Keira Knightly) and Dave (Adam Levine). The couple travel from the U.K. to the big city after Dave’s career begins to take off when his songs are featured in a successful movie. Gretta is not only his long term girlfriend but also his songwriting partner and creative muse.
Begin Again is an intelligent film about talented yet flawed characters. The main narrative follows Dan (played by Mark Ruffalo), a down on his luck record company co-owner and his struggle to get back on his feet both personally as well as professionally. After drunkenly stumbling into a club he catches Gretta performing one of her original songs. All at once Dave’s love and enthusiasm for music is reignited. Soon these two lonely characters join forces and record a CD.
Besides featuring Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine in his big screen debut Begin Again also features appearances by other real life musicians including Ceelo Green and Mos Def. The film also co-stars Catherine Keener (who always seems to chose quality material) and young talent Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Ender’s Game, and 3 Days to Kill).
One of the main themes of Begin Again involves musicians selling out (artistically as well as in terms of sacrificing their personal integrity) in order to achieve fame. This issue is brought to the forefront by the contrasting attitudes and experiences of Gretta and Dave. While Gretta struggles to keep her music authentic and stay true to herself, Dave chooses to compromise in order to achieve commercial success. The difference between the former couple is further illustrated by the contrasting ways in which they chose to live and work. While Dave is provided with a posh pad and top notch recording studio Gretta camps out on a friend’s sofa and records her music outside in various locations throughout the city.
In terms of the dynamic which develops between an older man and younger woman Begin Again is reminiscent of Lost in Translation as Gretta and Dave make for unlikely companions. Besides the obvious age difference the two come from different from backgrounds and share little in common in terms of life experience. The major element uniting them is their shared love of music. No where is this better represented than in a whimsical sequence in which the two sport earphones and listen to the music on each other’s phones while roaming around the city. The tunes featured range from Stevie Wonder to “As Time Goes By” from the classic film Casablanca. It’s during this sequence that Dave talks about the magical qualities of music. While casually sitting on the sidewalk the record company exec muses about how music can turn a banal scene into something extraordinary.
Begin Again is a difficult film not to like. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and well crafted with inspired performances by everyone involved. Keira Knightly is especially noteworthy in her role. Who knew she could also sing? Begin Again fits the bill for the feel good movie of the summer.
Begin Again opens July 11.