Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Knightley, Ruffalo Team Up To Melt Our Hearts With Music: Our Review of "Begin Again" (2014)

Directed By: John Carney (Once

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, Adam Levine

Rating: R for language

Run Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Synopsis: Dan (Ruffalo) is a record executive who has fallen on hard times, to the point of losing his job and contemplating suicide. Greta (Knightley) is a British songwriter who followed her singer boyfriend (Levine) to America but gets her heart broken when he hits it big. When Greta sings one of her songs impromptu in a bar that Dan is getting drunk at, he hears and becomes inspired by her music. Together they decide to record her songs in the open environment of New York City as they help each other try to regain who they once were.


Andrew: Hello, dear readers! We're here with the second of our two reviews we're posting today, as last Thursday we checked out Begin Again, the new film from director John Carney, who a few years back came out with a very popular indie film called Once. Once told the story of a pair of musicians in Ireland who fall in love but ultimately go their separate ways, and it really kind of took the world by storm because of its music. It just became a huge indie hit, won an Oscar for Best Original Song, and also lead to a popular and Tony-winning adaptation on stage. 

And now Carney's come back with Begin Again, which follows in a similar vein as Once in that it's about musicians, yet is its own film. This movie was about a down-on-his-luck- music producer named Dan, played by Mark Ruffalo...

Sarah: Who discovers a young singer/songwriter named Greta, played by Keira Knightley, who is getting ready to head home to England after a terrible break-up with her newly minted rock-star boyfriend played by Adam Levine.  Dan thinks that he can take Greta and do something with her songs; something that will pull him out of his slump that is fueled primarily by booze. 

A: This was one that I know I had been looking forward to ever since it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year and got good word of mouth. It looked like it had a great cast...

S:  And we read the article about it in Entertainment Weekly and it really just got us excited about seeing this movie on screen. And finally it has come to our little Indie film theater here in Atlanta! So now that we’ve seen it, Andrew, did it live up to our excitement?

A: I will say, straight forward, that I loved this movie. From start to finish it was just magnificent. I just loved the soul behind the entire thing. You really got the feeling that everyone involved really believed in what they were doing and really got behind it all - especially the music - and it comes across on screen. It really does have a top notch cast, which includes Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) and even Cee Lo Green; but it's led by Ruffalo, who is amazing, and Knightley is phenomenal and she even sings her own songs here. While she’s not the strongest of singers, it just seems to fit the film and her character. She has a nice voice!

S: Yeah, I would have never guessed that! I mean, it’s a little thin and not super strong but the music that they wrote for this movie just fit her voice well. Adam Levine also did a fantastic job here which was surprising to me because this is his first movie role.

Begin Again is strongly bolstered by the fact that Keira Knightley and Adam Levine both perform their
characters' songs. Both get their chance to shine onscreen here.

A: Yeah, it's Levine's first movie role and he's really only ever acted before this in season two of American Horror Story, but he does a great job as Greta's ex-boyfriend who goes from being the voice of their singer/songwriter duo to, really, kind of a jerk when he makes it big, cheats on Greta and leaves her behind. He disappears from the movie for a little while but comes back in an important way for Greta’s character arc. 

His musical performances are great, obviously. I think this film really got a lot from having him sing in this movie. You really got the prestige that he brings from the musical world, but he was also a pretty good actor it seems. I loved it all.

S: I loved this movie, too. Much like Chef this had that same vibe to it that the actors and everybody involved really believed in the story. It was another great character piece. I guess I hadn’t really been realizing but we as movie lovers and bloggers have really been starving for these kinds of movies lately.

A: It's especially tough for us to find more movies like this because we obviously pay for most of the movies we see and therefore have to be choosy sometimes in what we see, plus we don't have the means to go to film festivals where these kinds of films premiere.

S: Absolutely. And there’s been a fair amount of crap in the theatres and not a ton of good character pieces and movies that make you fall in love with the story and with these characters. But Begin Again definitely does that, I think. 

And it’s set on the backdrop of a wholly different character and that is the city of New York. The album that Ruffalo’s Dan and Knightley’s Greta are recording is set totally in the city of New York, out on the streets and on the rooftops, different locations all over the city, so they can get the ambient sound of the city in their songs while also not having to pay for a recording studio. So really, I felt that this movie was really like a love letter to the city.

A: It's absolutely in part a love letter to New York City.

S: It really encompassed everything that is gritty and yet beautiful about this city where so many dreams are made. And it’s loud and it’s noisy, and grating on the ears at times, but they were able to show that it has it’s own beat and feel. I really enjoyed it because it really is my most favorite city in the world so it was really kind of sweet to see it showcased in such a way.

A: I think...not only is it a love song to the city of New York - heck, Dan even says when he pitches the idea for the record that it’s a love song to the city - but I like that they filmed it all actually in the city. It wasn’t like they filmed it in Montreal and tried to pass it off as New York City.

S: There were places in the movie that we were able to point out and go, “Oh we’ve been there!” They wanted the audience to feel connected to the location.

One of the many NYC locations they filmed the recording sessions at include this pond at Central Park where
we mingled and stretched at before and after a 5K race we ran just last year when we lived in Connecticut.

A: They even shot some of the movie guerilla-style for some shots. They would literally jump out of a van on different streets and film a couple shots before any of the people on the streets had time to recognize the actors. I think that is so awesome. 

So we keep saying that there was so much heart behind this movie and I get that from Ruffalo more than anybody. I really like Ruffalo, he’s great in a lot of his roles but he’s not one of those actors where you really go, “Oh man, I’m so excited to see a Mark Ruffalo film.” But I thought he was perfect here and really knocked it out of the park. I was so touched by a number of things that he does in this movie. 

For example, there’s a scene that he shares with his daughter played by Hailee Steinfeld where he says, “I love you,” to her and she responds with, “I know." And as she walks to the house, the look on his face just shows that it’s tearing at him inside. But it’s really the love for his daughter that’s coming through. It was just phenomenal. So he was great here. The way he looked at Greta sometimes…and it’s not really a love story between the two…

S: It’s not! But it’s really a great way to show that they are helping each other start over, begin again, if you will. They’re saving each other at a time when they both really needed it. That’s one of the big things I liked about it. It wasn’t like, “oh these two are going to end up together,” because that’s not what it’s about, because they don’t. I think it’s important to know that this is not a story about a romance between two characters, per se, but a romance between the characters and the music. It was refreshing. 

I really enjoyed this movie. Just like with Chef, these are movies that we will own because they are stories that touch you and reach you on a different level.

A: We will probably purchase the soundtrack to this. [Editor's note: We did.] There were a number of songs that were just great, a number of scenes that were great! I wish owned the movie right now so we could pop it back in and watch it again. There are not many movies that we have seen this year that have made me smile as much as this one did coming from just a pure place of happiness. And there have been a lot of good movies out so far this year!

S: Yes, but most of those have been big studio releases. In these indie films, they really get into the characters and get back to the basic roots of storytelling. It’s been refreshing.

A: I hope that this movie gets awards love during the season and hope that it goes wide and gets the kind of love that Once did.

S: Me too. I’m going to go ahead and give this one a 5/5.

A: I am too.

FINAL VERDICT: A must-see in theatres, and one we'll own someday!

(Individual Score - S: 5/5  A: 5/5)

Photo Courtesy: schmoesknow.com, eonline.comnerdist.com

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