If, as freshly unemployed music producer/exec indie label founder Dan (Ruffalo) says, music has the ability to “invest banality with meaning”, you won’t find a better example of that maxim than right here, in Carney’s follow-up to the endearing Once. That’s better – as in “between good and best”.
Because let’s just say that this story of singer-songwriter Gretta (Knightley doing her own vocals) who’s about to leave NY after her rising rock-star boyfriend (Levine) dumps her, is discovered by Dan and agrees to joint venture an album of her songs street-recorded live in New York – well, it doesn’t re-invent the plot wheel. It does take the age-worn tropes of disillusioned passion and artistic integrity, fine-tune them via solid performances from main and subsidiary stars (with Keener/Steinfeld notably good as Dan’s wife and daughter) and whoop the whole thing up with a couple of wellplaced set-piece performances (albeit studio synced) against some classic NY backdrops.
Add CeeLo Green as verse-rapping sponsor Troublegum, a bit of trans-Atlantic chemistry and a light hand behind the camera and the mic and you got yourself some nicely observed female empowerment. Summer ain’t over yet. See it out with this.
Begin Again | Directed by John Carney (USA 2013) with Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener. Starts August 28
Originally published in issue #130, September 2014.