Much like an LP, Begin Again has two sides. One side is an edgy independent comedy, while the other is a saccharine studio romance. These two entities are thrown together in John Carney’s musical that while imbalanced, isn’t bad. In fact, it’s actually rather good.
Mark Ruffalo plays Dan Mulligan, a down-on-his-luck record producer on the verge of suicide. One drunken night he sees sees Kiera Knightley’s Gretta playing in an open mike spot, when he suddenly hears musical magic. Mulligan signs her up to record an album on the streets of New York, a project that might just get Mulligan back on track, whilst helping Gretta overcome the heartbreak from a recent break-up.
John Carney gave us the wonderful Once, a film that managed to weave romance and music into a film, making it all very organic and real. With Begin Again you can feel the interference of studio executives (you can feel producer Judd Apatow’s input in the editing room). The darker aspects are overlooked, keeping things light and breezy. It’s a real shame because Begin Again then comes across as superficial and lacking real in substance. It’s an enjoyable film, but it could have been a great one.
The shining light in Begin Again is Mark Ruffalo. His crumpled charm sells the movie in a way that raises it up, adding an edge and enough character to his role that everything else around his plot-line feels like an intrusion. Knightley is perfectly fine as the English singer-songwriter trying to make her way in the Big Apple, but she can’t simply can’t command the screen like Ruffalo. Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine hits the right notes as Knightley’s A-list singer former boyfriend, but this over-baked plot-thread feels overworked and much of it could have been explained in a few lines of character explaining dialogue. The less said about James Corden’s turn the better. The so-called comedian’s sycophantic sleaze even oozes from the scene when he’s playing a ‘cuddly sidekick’.
It might sound like I’m being harsh on Begin Again, but it’s only because I see a great film shining through. John Carney’s film feels like it was sacrificed at the altar by executives who were eager to release a feel good comedy. What could have been an edgy ‘acoustic’ effort has been over-produced and the finer subtleties have been lost in the noise. Begin Again isn’t as great as it could have been, but it’s still worth watching.
Want to hear a lot of Keira Knightley singing? Then the blu-ray special features includes a lot of it.