Set in New York City, Begin Again follows a chance meeting between Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a music executive that’s having troubles with the label he helped create, and Gretta (Keira Knightley), a talented songwriter that has recently split from her longtime musician boyfriend, who’s dealing with newfound fame, Dave (Adam Levine).
Gretta is coaxed by her friend Steve (James Corden) to play one of her songs during his gig in the same East Village bar where Dan has gone that evening to drown his sorrows. While Gretta plays her song on acoustic guitar, Dan envisions a full arrangement and following the performance, tells her that he wants to sign her to the label he no longer has clout at.
Instead of taking her broken heart back to the U.K., Gretta takes Dan up on his offer and they set out to create an album that the label and Dan’s business partner Saul (Yasiin Bey) can’t deny. They decide to record the album outdoors in NYC, with each song being recorded in a different location around the city.
Dan assembles a crack band of “bored musicians,” which includes Steve, two music students and a pianist stolen from a ballet class. Even Dan’s daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) adds a little electric guitar to one of Gretta’s recordings.
Both Gretta and Dan channel their emotions into the task at hand, where they find solace in the music and each other’s company. Throughout the course of the film, the audience gets a true sense of the power of music from the connection made between the lead characters.
I really appreciated how writer-director John Carney (Once) provides the audience with the circumstances in both Dan and Gretta’s lives that lead to the two of them crossing paths in that bar in the East Village. The transitions were done in a way that didn’t feel abrupt or cause confusion. They allowed the audience to see the care that was put into each of their backstories, as well as what led to these characters’ respective worlds falling apart.
Although Ruffalo, Knightley and even Levine, making his film debut, provide quite compelling performances, the stars most definitely share the spotlight with the music in the film. From Gretta and Dan roaming the city listening to Stevie Wonder to performances of the film’s original songs, music is truly the heart of Begin Again. Singer-songwriter and former front man of the New Radicals Gregg Alexander crafted songs, along with Carney and Glen Hansard, that captured a sense of honesty to Knightley and Levine’s characters and the plights they, especially Gretta, experience in the film. Knightley’s singing ability was a pleasant surprise, and she certainly holds her own.
Begin Again has a great mix of talented actors and quality music that makes for an enjoyable watch. Both film and music enthusiasts should be pleased with Carney’s latest offering.
Begin Again is in theaters now.
Begin Again: Music From & Inspired By The Original Motion Picture is available now. Listen to “Lost Stars” and “Like a Fool” below.
Photo credit: Copyright: © 2014 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.