In 2006, John Carney had a surprise hit with Once, a low-budget, Irish, sort-of musical dramedy starring non-professional actors; it nabbed an Oscar for Best Song, and later, became a stage play. In his new film — generically titled Begin Again — Carney asks: What if I made a film something like Once, but with famous people?
Lightning rarely strikes twice, and Begin Again definitely lacks the ragged bittersweet charm that won Once fans. Begin is not a bad movie, but the effort to appear effortless shows, and it takes a lot of suspended disbelief to process these well-known actors as struggling music-industry denizens.
Take, for example, Keira Knightley as a tentative singer-songwriter, whom washed-up music exec Mark Ruffalo sees potential in. Knightley's ex-boyfriend Adam Levine has become a big star, and left her behind in New York City to pen wispy heartbreak songs. So Knightley and Ruffalo put a band of misfits together and then, quite magically, record an LP live on the streets of Manhattan. (Adorable!) Financial and emotional support arrives from CeeLo Green, Mos Def and Catherine Keener.
It's an enjoyable enough fantasia of being a musician and finding personal, if not financial, success, and there are plenty of indie-pop songs to keep things bouncing along. You could do worse this summer at the cineplex, but don't be surprised if this tune has left your head by the time you get home.