Good evening (or afternoon, or morning, whichever would happen to apply!) and welcome new readers as well as returning readers! You may wish to know that I just created a Facebook page associated with this site, which can be found at www.facebook.com/onefilmfan. Please feel free to visit and “Follow” and “Like”. I am posting daily questions and hope to also post shorter commentary and thoughts along the way that I hope will be a more interactive approach in connecting with you all….fellow film lovers and fans from wherever you may hail from. So, with that said, I now wish to bring you my review of a newly released Indie film, “Begin Again”.
Brought to us by independent production studio staple The Weinstein Company and Irish writer/director John Carney (“One The Edge“, “The Rafters“), “Begin Again” starts us out in a smoky club in Mew York city during an open mic night, where we are initially introduced to Steve (James Cordon) who decides during his set to invite a friend up to play one of her original songs. Reluctantly, she obliges and hence we are then introduced to Gretta (the wonderful Keira Knightley) who, upon singing, attracts the notice of a particular patron whom goes unnamed until the story jumps back to prior to the event at hand, where we see he is down-on-his-luck, formerly successful A&R man Dan (Mark Ruffalo). The tale unfolds into the circumstances that have led Dan to be in the downtrodden position in life he is now in, including the realization he has not quite been the Dad of the year to his teenage daughter Violet (the talented Hailee Steinfeld), nor even a mindful ex to his estranged wife Miriam (Catherine Keener). Topping it all off with his overall disgust at the trends in modern music and a futile search for “the next big thing” or at least an ORIGINAL artist that REALLY draws attention, we also see he had a not-so-great parting with his record label boss, Saul (Mos Def). All of THIS ultimately leads us back to the present where Dan officially approaches Gretta about her music and a possible recording deal, much to her initial chagrin and disinterested unbelief. But even as Dan continues to push the issue, we then are taken again back to see the history of Gretta’s life leading to New York, and find she was involved with a up and coming popular musician Dave (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine). As two songwriters enjoying the initial spoils of his success, things ultimately unravel and as these events come about, we get a better glimpse into why Gretta feels the way she does about her songs and what she chooses to do with them…and what she initially does NOT want them to be. And back into the present, Gretta makes the choice to go forward with Dan and his ideas about how to truly bring her music alive. Utilizing friends and fellow musicians who are still loyal to him without question AND willing to pay him back for his assistance getting THEM to their success previously, Dan formulates a unique approach to even the recording methods for Gretta’s songs, and it becomes an amazing journey that really encompasses so many facets of New York City, even as the two of them become closer and closer friends, bonding through the sessions paired with a particularly poignant journey via a long city walk and shared music on their phones. Even as Gretta learns about Dave’s further successes and Dan’s life begins to turn around with his family, Gretta becomes the glue that holds them all together, all the while growing herself in ways she most likely never thought possible. How the story goes beyond these points, much less ends up, is left to seeing the film, as my “No Spoilers” alarm will prevent me from delving deeper.
From my experiences with independent film, they have always ended up a straight “hit or miss”. While there have been a few this year so far that sadly missed (and I mean REALLY missed) for me, THIS film is NOT one of those. Just the sheer rawness and somewhat bare bones approach in which Carney’s directing style and dialogue carries us through the New York City landscape for the scope of this story and its characters really causes the whole thing to come alive. As anyone who reads my reviews knows, I truly long for a sense of realism in certain types of films, and these are the movies that can bring that kind of human depth, which again, this one did for me. As a musician and music fan myself, I got that sense of connection right from the start, but then beyond that, just seeing these people, their struggles, yet the desire for that new sense of success and meaning all play out was very genuine in this project. I love Mark Ruffalo, as to me, he is kind of the new standard of the “everyman” actor (his turn as Bruce Banner/The Hulk notwithstanding), being able to realistically portray that person you know is better than the circumstances that are currently weighing on him…you ROOT for him. Knightley has such a, dare I call it, effervescent innocence about her in playing Gretta that you also just find yourself SO wanting her to succeed, to find that truth in life, that meaning, and REALLY run with it. This film isn’t, in itself, meant to have Steinfeld as a MAJOR part of the overall plot unlike most of her previous films, BUT she STILL manages to have a particular sequence in the story that was just plain, freakin’ COOL and I loved how she owned it! I was smiling the whole time while it unfolded because it was another one of those raw moments of joy that you could not help but feel given the context it was in. And of course, there is opportunity for Levine to stretch his very impressive and unique voice here as well. Plus, the story took some turns I wasn’t actually thinking would occur, which put the icing on this cinematic cake. Now, it has to be said that there was a copious amount of language in the film that you do need to withstand, so just be warned. But honestly, that was all ultimately part of that rawness in the execution of the movie that made it what it was. Not saying that all the language as NECESSARY, mind you. And the music in the film is very infectious I must say. Knightley actually learned to play guitar for it and you know what, she can sing! The style of music presented really fit her somehow, and that was a character in itself here, so much a part of the emotion and pathos interwoven in the story. A worthy indie effort in my book.
As always, this is all for YOUR consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading!