Sunday, 23 February 2020

Movie Review: Begin Again (2013)


A musical drama with elements of romance, Begin Again offers enough tender torment to transcend genre conventions.

In New York City, disconsolate Gretta James (Keira Knightley) reluctantly performs one of her songs at an open mic night in a dingy bar. She is spotted by down-on-his-luck ex-record company executive Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo).

In flashback, the events leading up to that night are revealed. Dan is separated from his wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and losing touch with his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Drinking heavily, he is fired by his long time business partner Saul (Yasiin Bey, better known as Mos Def).

Meanwhile, Gretta had arrived in New York from England with her up-and-coming boyfriend Dave Kohl (Adam Levine of Maroon 5 fame), who is riding a wave of success after his music featured in a hit movie. Dave is quickly sucked into the celebrity whirlpool and abandons Gretta.

Now Dan promises Gretta he can help her record an album. After Saul turns them away, Dan decides to use the city as a studio, recording Gretta's songs at street level with the urban din as an integral part of the music.

Featuring original music by Gregg Alexander, Begin Again carries enough intelligent freshness to steer clear of most cliches. While the music walks a fine line between genuinely soulful and white-girl-with-a-guitar singer-songwriter banality, most of the songs land on just the right side of evocative. In her first singing role Keira Knightley does enough to convince as a tentative talent, gradually gaining confidence under Dan's tutelage but unsure where she wants her music to take her.

Multiple relationships meld together as Gretta and Dan's lives intersect, and director John Carney, who also wrote the screenplay, deserves credit for keeping personal interactions honest and unpredictable. Gretta is hurt by Dave, Dan and Miriam are surveying the wreckage of their marriage, while Dan and Violet are standing at the edge of a barely functioning father - daughter bond. Professionally Dan's long standing partnership with Saul is in tatters, and Begin Again touches upon the changing fundamentals of the music industry in the digital era.

Lazier scripts would telegraph how all the knots will be untangled, but Carney plays coy throughout, riding the energy of al fresco musical performances in streets, alleyways, subways and roofs to stitch together the various emotional rescues.

Begin Again hums an original tune, only enhanced by the pleasantly intrusive background noise.






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