Courtesy: The Weinstein Company
Director : John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, James Corden & Introducing Adam Levine
On the radio as I was driving home, the DJ (with typical fervor), did a quick recap of the top songs over the holiday weekend. The artists he named?
Charlie XCX, Iggy Azalea and Jason Derulo
If you don't know who they are - or you do, and are old enough to remember a time when music was less homogenized and (a bit) more honest, you'll want to see "Begin Again," starring Academy Award nominees Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo.
Originally entitled, "Can A Song Save Your Life?" at its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in March, "Begin Again" is an unconventional love story written and directed by John Carney ("Once").
Our heroine? Greta (Keira Knightley), the sunny, supportive songwriter girlfriend from England accompanying her partner of 5 years, Dave (Maroon 5's Adam Levine in his acting debut), to New York, where he is ushered skillfully into the world of commercial music success as a solo artist whose work has been used in a film. The record label excels at accommodating Dave - and appreciating Greta's easygoing compliant nature. Her reward? Single girl status - and future songwriting inspiration.
The night before Greta is due to return home, heartbroken and a bit bereft, her fellow ex-pat friend and struggling musician, Steve (a skillful light comedic turn by Tony winner James Corden) brings her up on stage in a dive bar to perform one of her songs...which is where she'll soon meet the man who will change her life.
Mark Ruffalo is Dan, a down-on-his-luck, drunken, disorderly disaster and messy music executive driving a vintage Jaguar around NYC as he berates and belittles every demo tape he hears, and bumbles through life with a flask (and not much else) in hand. Having been fired by the record label he co-created with Saul (Mos Def - Yasiin Bey), Dan stumbles into a dive bar - and onto musical inspiration, thanks to Greta.
Convinced he can catapult her to success - and recapture his career, Dan attempts a traditional approach - a bit addled by alcohol - to appeal to Greta's sensibilities, only to be foiled by his former label and her plucky earnestness.
The solution - and what is truly the love in this story? Music recorded in the city, independently, collaboratively - and comically. Some of the most sparkling scenes take place with New York as a vibrant backdrop, and our central character? A love of music that is organic, individual and independently created.
Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo's characters connect with each other as one would hope in real life, with stops and starts - and we see where their hearts truly want them to go.
Oscar-nominee Catherine Keener ("Capote," "40-Year Old Virgin") and Hailee Steinfeld ("Enders Game") portray Dan's wife and daughter, while Cee-Lo Green has a few moments to shine as a successful artist who knows he owes his success (in part) to Dan. Adam Levine's debut as the man-child musician-turned-pop-star-prat Dave Kohl is more than acceptable, with a believable storyline - and his singing talent given appropriate screen (and soundtrack) time.
At times awkward and bumbling, halting and humorous, "Begin Again" is a celebration of what used to be - and what can be found again, IF you use your imagination - and take time to listen.
"Begin Again" is Rated R for language.
US Distribution: The Weinstein Company