Forged on the New York singer-songwriter scene, “Begin Again” is a story about lost souls who find safety woven in the music created from their real life.
Gretta (Keira Knightley) is a talented songwriter, who is not in any way, shape or form a performer. Her boyfriend and songwriting partner Dave (Adam Levine), whom she has lived with for five years, explodes with success and cheats on her. This leaves a love-stricken Gretta who, with writer-director John Carney’s (“Once”) beautiful opening sequence, plays at an open mic one fateful night. With awkward hesitancy and a fragile voice, her performance only gains the applause of her British, pal Steve (James Corden) and a drunken record producer named Dan (Mark Ruffalo).
As Dan loses his wife, daughter and now job, he grows tired of the uninteresting, trite records he receives daily. But, like a godsend, he hears (and sees) magic with Gretta’s soul-stirring performance.
While, Dan is headstrong with creating a record with the reluctant and skeptical Gretta. Having both lost their love and work, Gretta agrees to go on to make a record with Dan the real way — in the streets of New York.
Enlisting the help of a friend, random passersby and Dan’s former hip-hop discovery of a star (Cee Lo Green), they go on to record in streets, alleyways and rooftops, capturing the raw ambient sounds of New York while utilizing their surroundings (and interferences) to create charming and harmonious arrangements.
The film almost serves as a love letter to music as it does to the musicians who create the music. We see Gretta, writing songs based on her relationship with Dave, creating songs worthy of being a gift to him; and, in one impassioned moment, we hilariously witness a rather drunken Gretta record an angry voice message turned song with her pal Steve to Dave’s voicemail. The moment is pure gold.
In several restrained moments of intimacy and gazes, Carney pushes the envelope of creating a romance between the two. But, their relationship turns out to be nothing more than a partnership and friendship — something in which their purely platonic intimacy is sweetly felt as they, at one moment, roam the streets of New York together, listening to music while being lost in the playlists of their own lives.
Subtle and celebratory, this film beautifully captures the essence of what it is like to try and start over again. As Knightley sings the songs performed in the movie—and well, I might add—Levine’s mastery and effortlessness as frontman for Maroon 5 doesn’t hold his character’s humility back. He performs with an air of subtlety and honesty just as Knightley is able to let her good-heart and sincerity shine through all her quirks and beauty, leaving us feeling like she is the genuine songwriter her character is. Lastly, Ruffalo warmly pieces the narrative together as the frantic age-old record producer, who shows us why he is the person he is and why he deserves to be the once-successful record producer he was in the past.
With a soundtrack headed by the direction of late 90s alt-rock band, New Radicals’ frontman Gregg Alexander, the movie beams with all of its feel-good, heart-on-sleeve kind of sentiments that make it special. Whether it be the star-studded cast or feel-good tunes, it is quite rare to find a film that can take you through the wonderful journey it is to simply feel and love music — without having a care for anything monetary — and to simply have fun with it.
And, with the hit Oscar-worthy song “Lost Stars” being transformed throughout the narrative — as over the progression of Gretta and Dan’s own relationship — there is nothing quite else that can genuinely capture the heart, soul and joy of music. But John Carney’s “Begin Again” does just that. And it makes you feel oh, so good for the summer.
Recommended: “Begin Again” is a soothing summer indie film that benefits largely from its charming lead stars and soulful music.