Sunday, July 13, 2014

“Begin Again” Proves Do-Overs Have More Fun

“Begin Again” is a study of two characters at a low point in their lives. Keira Knightley is Greta, a songwriter and longtime girlfriend of Dave (Maroon 5's Adam Levine), a singer who's recently come to New York after scoring a deal with a major record label. Stardom soon arrives, and the trappings of it soon change him and ends their relationship. Devastated, Greta is about to leave the city when she gives a spontaneous performance of one of her songs.

That song enchants Dan (Mark Ruffalo), an indie record label executive who's lost his job, his wife, and is estranged from his teenage daughter. He's deeply unimpressed with the acts steered his way, and Greta's music excites him in a way he hasn't been for a long time.

After he persuades Knightley, these two down on their luck souls decide to make beautiful music together. What comes next should be trite or just downright hokey. Of course, Knightley is as disdainful of money and selling out in general the way only someone with a safety net would be.

But the mood, the feel, the music, the people of this story are just too damn charming. Said music for Greta's album is recorded outside, on the streets, and the sounds of them are incorporated into her album as well. At a time when the New York brand of detachment is more fashionable than ever, seeing characters that are openly passionate about their art is as refreshing as a cool drink of water after a long, exhausting run. It's also impossible to resist.

And I suppose its themes about how much control you have over your art and what happens when you find the success you dream of is a subject of much meditation for director and writer John Carney, who seems to have only recently achieved a great degree of success himself. And it's hard to truly despise a movie that is so passionately in love with good music; it refuses to completely vilify anyone involved in it, not even Greta's cheating ex, or Ruffalo's fellow executive Mos Def, who seems to have truly lost touch with what drove him to where he is in the first place.

While “Begin Again” may somewhat ignore certain revolutions that the music industry has seen as of late, it's surprisingly deft about the way it views the industry. “Begin Again” is a deeply hopeful movie, but there's no talk about Greta being an exception or changing the system from inside. The movie seems to accept that compromise is inevitable from the moment you buy in, and the only way to truly control your art is to opt out entirely.

Grade: B-

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