San Francisco International Film Festival 2014
John Carne’s Once (2006) had everything going for it including newcomers Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová who won our hearts and the Academy Award for best song. Begin Again (2013) finds Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley in a similar making-it-in-music story, not a remake but a variation on a theme. Even the publicity poster looks similar. With professional actors and a bigger budget, why doesn’t it work this time? Unfortunately, the film lacks Once‘s feeling of discovering characters we’d never met before. Not surprisingly, it also fails to repeat Hansard and Inglová’s chemistry. Begin Again is a slight, if occasionally entertaining movie.
As Greta, a singer-songwriter, Knightley performs the songs herself and she’s good. That’s one nice surprise. Mark Ruffalo is Dan, a failed record company executive still looking for a hit. In an overly familiar scenario, his marriage has failed and his daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) hates him. Steinfeld is the other nice surprise. The little girl from True Grit (2010) has grown up, fast. She first appears in a halter and hot pants outfit worthy of Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver (1976). Dad notices and makes that exact comment but in his case it’s not a compliment.
Carne replays scenes from various points of view. That technique is effective at times but it also confuses and breaks the flow of the story. In flashback, we meet Greta’s former boyfriend Dave, played by Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. Both handsome and cringe-inducing, Dave is an up-and-coming singing star whose songs sound remarkably like, well, Maroon 5 (Much of the advance publicity features Keira and Adam). Besides Catherine Keener as Dan’s long-suffering wife, other good actors make the most of clichéd characters, including Mos Def as Saul, Dan’s former partner and CeeLo Green as a music mogul.