Monday, November 17, 2014

BEGIN AGAIN (2013): Simple Romantic-Drama Meets Joyful, Heartwarming Musical Adventure

Begin Again

Have I written about CHEF here? Not yet? Well, I should have because it feels that for me BEGIN AGAIN is as joyous as CHEF. I love how filmmakers use music to enliven their films, and John Carney (the guy that brought you the romantic-musical ONCE) did it wonderfully in this latest feature. From the story only, BEGIN AGAIN is not perfect, but the use of surprisingly easy-listening songs make it more enjoyable to watch.

It was one uncomfortable evening for Gretta (Keira Knightley), a songwriter from England, in a night club in New York, and it got more uncomfortable when her friend Steve (James Corden), who performed singing in the club, invited her to come upstage and sing one of her newest songs. The song was still rough, she had only a guitar to support her singing, and the crowd was surprisingly ignorant to her performance. The only person who gave attention was Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a retired record label executive who believed that Gretta's performance was astounding, comparing her future in music might be just like Norah Jones early in her career.

Begin Again

So he handed her his card, asked her to have a beer with him, and made her promised to call him back if she wanted to consider his offer. And in a series of subtly put together flashbacks, we are given clues about our two leading characters: Gretta has a boyfriend named Dave Kohl (Adam Levine, who you know better as the vocalist of Maroon 5), an actor-singer who has many fans, while Dan was a husband lived separately from his wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld, probably in one of her cutest appearances on screen).

You can imagine what will happen next, of course. You'll know that Gretta finally decided to produce an album with Dan (because if she didn't, there is nothing left to tell). And Dave cheated on Gretta was the reason she agreed to Dan's offer? A bit surprising for me, but since IMDb and other reviews wrote about this openly, I'll write it anyway. Of course, you will also reveal that Gretta and Dan will be entangled with each other's personal lives (they will) because, again, that is the 'formula' mostly used in similar dramas. 

Well I'm sorry if I give you too many clues about the plot because that is also what I had wondered once the first minutes of BEGIN AGAIN rolled. My point is, this is no complicated drama. It is that simple. It is that cliche. Especially when you get more into the films, your 'sense of movie' will easily drag you to presume what is going to happen after one and another scene.

Begin Again

But that is not the key. John Carney intended to give you a better experience of movie-watching by delivering the most ear-catching songs you might ever heard from a movie recently. That is where your feelings and emotions start to be involved. That is where you start letting yourself drift into the movie's nuance. You will no longer believe that you are watching a movie, because BEGIN AGAIN suddenly transforms into half-music video, half-concert movie. Which is great.

I think it will be crazy if none of the songs from this movie made into next year's Academy Awards (or at least Golden Globes) nominees for Best Song (someone please inform me if all the songs are original or any are remakes). Plus, portraits of New York taken from its unusual angle bring impression to viewers about loneliness the two leading characters suffer because of their situations. That is also the reason, when Violet (whom her mom thought was a bad guitarist) suddenly impressed everyone with her surprisingly incredible guitar performance in one of Gretta's recordings (banal, isn't it?), I clapped my hands. I was impressed.

And of course, kudos to the cast. Keira Knightley did all the singing without any dubbing, that is both worth mentioning and worth applauding, because she was wonderful. Her vocal performance implied the 'raw talent' Gretta supposed to have. Hailee Steinfeld also learned to play guitar for her performance and it seems her effort was paid-off. Mark Ruffalo and Catherine Keener also made a terrific performance, but I specifically want to mention Adam Levine's performance, not in singing (it's easy for him of course) but in acting. He precisely captured the feeling of a boyfriend who did a mistake and painstakingly wanted to reestablish the relationship with his ex. Seriously, Mr. Levine, if Maroon 5 no longer works for you, you can consider being an actor.

Begin Again

BEGIN AGAIN will easily be your choice of movie-to-watch in your weekend, simply because the joy and cheer it brings to you. You'll be toe-tapping, finger-snapping, and perhaps humming to the rhythm of the songs. Don't forget to purchase the soundtracks, but I bet listening to the songs only will less impress you than having them played for scenes of the movie. They complete each other.


Begin Again3.5 out of 5 stars

BEGIN AGAIN
2013 / Comedy, Drama, Music / 104 min / R

cast: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo,
James Corden, Adam Levine,
Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, et al.

written & directed by John Carney





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