With fears that John Carney was going to be a one hit wonder with his musical drama Once – an Academy Award winning one hit wonder no less – any such fears have since been allayed, as he returns to a similar territory to present his latest picture Begin Again, in what is an amiable picture that triumphantly blends cinema and music.
Talking of one hit wonders, that’s exactly what our protagonist Dan is most fed up with, being a beleaguered music producer desperately searching for somebody to reignite his passion for the industry. Battling with alcoholism and a fractured relationship with his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), he is rejuvenated and inspired when stumbling across the talented singer-songwriter Greta (Kiera Knightley) playing in a bar. Dan instantly wants to turn the musician into a star, but given her past experiences with a popular recording artist (Adam Levine), she’s somewhat reluctant to follow suit.
While Once was unbearably mawkish, Begin Again is also brushed with sentiment, but counteracts it with a barbed cynicism towards the industry; instead opting to celebrate a more pure, unfiltered approach to musical expression. The affable tone to this is helped along by a fine leading performance by Ruffalo, who is such a subtle and naturalistic actor, and the key reason as to why this film doesn’t fall flat. However, he has sadly been dealt a tough card in this instance, as Dan is not nearly as nuanced as you would like. His character arc is too tangible and frustratingly linear, and we don’t get a sense for his emotional journey, or any sufficient resolution.
Nonetheless the impressive soundtrack glosses over many of these misgivings, because the quality of the original score ensures we can invest in this tale and believe in Greta’s fledging career. Knightley’s surprisingly good voice helps too. Maybe a career in music beckons, who knows?