Begin Again is a beautifully shot, well-acted and brilliantly scripted film that brings a level of warmth and joy to its audience that many movies attempt to attain but few successfully capture. Director and writer John Carney has produced something very special with his story of love, music and city life in this joyful feature starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, James Corden, Catherine Keener, Adam Levine and Hailee Steinfeld.
The ensemble are electric and the narrative itself? Simple but open to lots of different themes and exploratory sub-plots of friendship and family. It all falls together superbly and as a spectator you are struck with this sense of happiness and fulfillment come the final moments. What’s even better – and seemingly rare – is the adage of a realistic end that might initially leave people a little disappointed but eventually sits comfortably and summarises the film perfectly.
Begin Again follows Greta (Knightley) and Dan (Ruffalo) after they meet in a bar during a low point in both of their lives. Greta is a British songwriter feeling lost in America following her breakup from newly famous musician boyfriend Dave (played by real pop star Levine, which adds a quiet humour). Dan is a record producer vying for his job, practically broke, newly divorced and has a mild alcohol problem. Together they combine their passion for music – and their respective woes – to produce an outdoor album with a host of talented musicians. What ensues is an uplifting story that combines the best of New York thanks to Yaron Orbach’s stirring cinematography and a sometimes emotional – sometimes funny – script that is carried by a stellar cast that kind of boasts the best in Brit and US talent.
While Knightley and Ruffalo lead the ensemble, they don’t consume the premise and each actor is allowed a moment to become memorable. From Steinfeld’s Violet rocking out on her electric guitar and Corden’s adorably charismatic Steve to Levine in diva-mode as Dave, Carney is sure to give each character breathing space and provide enough run time to create depth and character development that pays off. The support are strong and the leads, even stronger. Knightley has proved herself to be a diverse actress and to see her step away from period drama in to a whimsical film that see’s her play a kooky, straight-talking singer is refreshing. The visible pain that Knightley channels as Greta following her heartbreak – and her description of this as a process of grieving – is so touching and we can’t help but fall in love with this quirky character. Ruffalo is too in his element as an aging music producer with beard and whiskey both present, and the pairs chemistry sizzles throughout the feature which ultimately leads to an unpredictable conclusion and a set of characters that we not only root for, but want to be friends with.
The best feeling you get from Begin Again is this overriding sense that you’re watching an indie feature. But, the best indie flick you can get your hands on. Carney’s film doesn’t have a studio gloss to it that makes the underlying romance cliched or the musical element corny – in fact, the score is contemporary and catchy and, at times, goose-bump inducing. Every component seems to be measured correctly and I doubt you will have seen a recent film that is as charming and wonderfully undramatic as this.
Begin Again is something rather special. If you’re at a crossroads in your life, this is just what you need.