Films about music are a funny thing. Where Music & Lyrics failed, Almost Famous triumphed. It’s tricky to say something disparaging about the music industry without being seen to be just like it, and for the music in the film to be good enough for the point being made to feel real to an audience.
Begin Again, written and Directed by Once’s John Carney, follows down and out music producer and estranged family man Dan (Mark Ruffalo) and newly dumped singer songwriter Gretta (Keira Knightley), as they try to come to terms with the strange turns their lives have taken. Dan is sick of what the music industry has become, and decides to record an album with Gretta on the streets of New York, with the ambient sounds of traffic and people all a part of the music being created.
The film is pretty funny about what has happened to contemporary music, with Dan listening to demo’s of new pop songs before throwing them all out of his car in frustration at the inane lyrics and pointless repetitive beats. Gretta’s boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) and his progression from indie singer to soft rock star working in LA and growing a wanky beard seems a comment on what fame and big record labels in particular do to people .
Hailee Steinfeld and Catherine Keener give wonderful performances as the family Dan has been forced to leave, all of them caught in the transitional stage of a family ripped apart but not able to move on. Cee Lo Green pops up to get the plot moving along and give them some money, for little conceivable reason other than to reassure us that Dan is a good guy – an odd little moment that felt unecessary. James Corden’s performance is a natural one, but the underwriting of the character leaves little for him to work with, and there’s only so much hipster Corden in a pork pie hat a girl can take.
Keira Knightley plays the shorthand for indie girl, (including a bizarre and pointless scene where she buys a bike with a basket on the front so we can understand she is ‘not like other girls’) with her guitar and moody songs, and the character, much like the plot itself, doesn’t get much developed until the album starts recording – although every single outfit she wore was amazing so nice one costume designer Arjun Bhasin. Knightley herself plays an awkward tomboy loner, doing so naturally if a little underwhelmingly – it’s a very close to home character with awkward giggles and pouty lips. Mark Ruffalo is as good as ever, especially in his more tender moments, talking about meeting his wife. But if you want to see Ruffalo really shine check out The Kids Are Alright,
There are great moments – walking through the streets of New York listening to Luck Be A Lady, and the montages when the album is being recorded really make you feel a part of the anarchic album being created. It has that nice feel of putting a middle finger up at the music industry and the big bosses who want to employ teeny boppers to churn out hits until they’re too old. But the film loses its way a bit, and at times I was unsure about what it was trying to say. The film is partly a comment on plastic soulless pop culture but is itself trapped in the world it claims to be different from.
It’s light fun with some okay songs, but with underwritten characters and a sickly sweet sheen, don’t take Begin Again too seriously.
Begin Again is in cinemas 11th July