BEGIN AGAIN (John Carney, 2014)
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl make beautiful music together. Boy is a famous recording artist, while girl is the designated musician girlfriend. Boy and girl break up. Girl takes revenge. If that sounded like a plot straight out of a Kate Hudson or Katherine Heigl movie, then I do apologize.
BEGIN AGAIN begins at the end of a relationship between Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), the boy and Gretta (Keira Knightley), the girl. Girl sings her heart out, albeit reluctantly at a New York nightclub, capturing the ears of ex-record producer Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo). Ex, as in he just got fired from his job by his business partner Saul (Mos Def) that morning.
So with Dan's persuasion, Gretta exacts the ultimate revenge plot, although it wasn't entirely her plan in the first place. But hey, we do what we can to cope with heartbreak. Along with some of Dan's friends, including the now wealthy Troublegum (CeeLo Green), whose success as a recording artist is credited to him, Gretta turns her sorrow into words bathed in beautiful music. And when ex-BF Dave hears one of her compositions in his voicemail, he reexamines his mistakes.
Using the environment of NYC as their playground, Gretta, Dan and co. record in subways, rooftops, alleyways, and wherever the music takes them. Their journey to self-discovery becomes our journey of self-discovery as well. Writer-director John Carney understands the power of music to heal us, to change us, and to affect others as well, and in this film he touches upon our inner voices like a beautiful maiden would slowly caress the strings of a harp.
Dan, too experiences a life transformation. His teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) borders on the rebellious side, with her almost slutty clothes she wears to school. And that isn't probably her fault, being product of a cheating mother and a washed out father. But when Gretta comes into the picture, Dan learns how to become more of a father to Violet.
The cheating mother in question is played by Catherine Keener, who is so good that even in her minimal screen time, she reminds us how good a character actress she is (remember her Harper Lee in CAPOTE, or her Maxine in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH?).
The camera highlights Keira Knightley's beauty in such a way she has never shined before on film. And she sings pretty decent, too. Also, Adam Levine does justice to his celebrity boyfriend (or ex-boyfriend) role. Carney keeps his actors' performances as grounded as possible, and as realistic as could be. Truly, this film is a bag of surprises.
One of the songs in the movie, "LOST STARS" will probably stick with you long after you've seen the film. Rarely does a film with this kind of subtlety on what could have been an exercise in crying (google Nicholas Sparks movie adaptations) grace our consciousness. I have yet to see Carney's previous film ONCE, but judging from BEGIN AGAIN, the future is bright for this young fellow.