Bottom-line: The film and its music grow on you slowly
A year ago, Coen brothers had made Inside Llewyn Davis, a gem of a film with a strong music backdrop. The characters were quirky and mostly unlikeable music artists and the story very believable. The screenplay did not follow any rules and generally meandered like the characters. The hero was the music. After all, it revisited a wonderful ‘60s folk scene.
John Carney’s Begin Again has similar elements: music and struggling artists. It’s half Hollywood, half original. It has a few clichés too. But it serves a masterstroke in the very idea of two desperate people getting together to cut a live album on the streets of New York. There might even be romance and undercurrents, but that’s not the point here. And that’s the best in-between-the-lines part.
So we have the quintessential New York based alcoholic loser of a music director, Dan (Mark Ruffalo) who was once very successful. He wears the look of a worn out man in late 40s. He had even won two Grammy awards. Recently he sold the precious trophies for an amount that could buy him drinks to last one weekend.
This, he reveals in his first drunken conversation with a talented Briton babe in the woods, a singer and songwriter, Gretta (Keira Knightley). Enough to charm her into singing for his own first independent music album.
The entire first half of the story goes into the day’s flashback, which shows how rotten it has been for both of them. While it reveals nothing different from what has been seen before on screen, it holds sufficient interest and involvement in the two characters.
When two underdogs meet, they are bound to gain empathy. Between the two, Mark Ruffalo’s drunken charm is like a heady intoxicant. Soon, one starts enjoying both the album in the making and the story. The bonding between the two is given a refreshing treatment.
The last quarter of the film is like a sweet song ending on just the right note without following any melody convention. The music, too, is like the movie. It grows on you slowly. The first song sung by Knightley, like the beginning sequence, disappoints. The next time you hear the same song, with music track envisioned by Dan in his liquor induced imaginative state. The song sounds better but doesn’t blow you away. Ditto with the story.
By the time, we hear the final version of the song Lost Stars in the film, it bears significance to the story’s theme: the commercialization of music.
It’s no gentle music to the ears. As for the heart, a lukewarm and realistic ending is just right to make you forget the flat beginning.