Begin Again (2014)

Begin Again (2014)

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His sudden increase in facial hair did not go unnoticed.
His sudden increase in facial hair did not go unnoticed.

Twitter Plot Summary: A music producer with no apparent prospects strikes gold with a songwriter who is just about to make her way home back to England.

Five Point Summary:

1. Dingy club, but nice imagination, Dan.
2. Adam Levine and his amazing array of facial hair styles.
3. Out on the streets of New York.
4. Will she… won’t she…?
5. Everything tied up quite nicely.

Gretta (Knightley) is down on her luck – she’s just moved to New York in order to be with her pop star boyfriend (Levine) who is on the verge of hitting the big time after working on a much lauded film soundtrack. Their relationship turns sour following his indiscretions, but just before she can head home she is forced onto the stage at an open mic night to perform a song. Fortunately for her, equally down on his luck music mogul Dan (Ruffalo) is in the audience and sees potential in her songwriting abilities. With a little persuasion he convinces her to record an album guerrilla style across the city, background noise and all.

There is much to be enjoyed in Begin Again. Ruffalo is as intensely likeable as ever, bringing layer upon layer to the character of Dan and slowly peeling through those layers to reveal the cause of his descent into alcoholism. There’s a lot of depth to the character and Ruffalo pitches it at exactly the right level. The obligatory family issues and troublesome daughter angle is given an endearing if not entirely fresh spin, assumptions as to why Dan is in the doldrums are soon swept aside. Knightley meanwhile proves herself to be a perfectly adept singer, autotune or not. Gretta has an indie sensibility and nothing to lose, so forming a band from willing volunteers from across the city and recording without a licence to do so seems like a good idea.

Making an album guerilla style.
Making an album guerrilla style.

There are amusing turns from CeeLo Green as a star who benefitted from Dan’s guidance earlier in his career, and James Corden is a surprisingly likeable presence as Gretta’s fellow Brit trying to make ends meet in a foreign land by busking on the streets. Adam Levine isn’t anywhere near as bad as you might expect as wannabe pop star Dave, although clearly his involvement here is to provide a really catchy soundtrack rather than demonstrate that he has acting chops. At least he gets to show off some impressive facial hair to draw attention away from his acting abilities.

The city of New York is clearly designed to be considered a star in its own right in Begin Again, a love letter to the city and its residents whilst simultaneously commenting on the current state of the music industry. That marks one of the key differences between Gretta and Dave, him being drawn in by the glitz and glamour, embracing the world of celebrity whilst she has no interest in that world and simply wants the music to speak for itself. There’s no doubt that performers and artists from both sides of this divide will see truth in Dave and/or Gretta’s perspective on events.

The script may tie up its ending a touch too cleanly, but otherwise Begin Again marks perhaps the biggest surprise this year – a film with some solid characters, an effective emotional core and – most importantly – track after track of catchy tunes that will have your foot inadvertently tapping along throughout.

Score: 4/5

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