Begin Again (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4) : Starting over with music

beginagain01 Around its beginning, “Begin Again” has a key moment which shows us how some songs can mean a lot to us at the right time and the right place in our life. It is just a simple song performed with a bit of reluctance, but its music and lyrics particularly come close to one guy who happens to be there. He instinctively recognizes the potential in her music as a sudden inspiration sparks in him, and that is the start of their accidental relationship which eventually helps them starting over from their respective problematic lives.

The guy in question is Dan(Mark Ruffalo), a seasoned music producer who was once successful but is now nearly close to hitting the bottom in both his private and professional life. While living alone in his small, crummy apartment in New York after his recent divorce from his wife Miriam(Catherine Keener), he frequently drinks without much money, and he is not exactly in good appearance when he is supposed to spend a day with his teenager daughter Violet(Hailee Steinfeld). In the record company he founded with his partner Saul(Yasiin Bey, who is also known as Mos Def), he does not show much interest to business matters while not having any notable success in discovering new talents to watch, and Saul is not so pleased about his friend/partner who has merely been occupying a space in their company.

Dan is eventually fired by his friend, and, drunken and dispirited as usual, he goes into a bar where Gretta(Keira Knightley) comes to perform one of her songs. The reaction of the audiences at the bar is mild on the whole, but her song resonates with Dan’s melancholic feelings, and his mind suddenly flies with the bright ideas on how her music can be presented more effectively. The movie shows his imaginary arrangement of her song as he adds several instruments one by one in his mind, and we can see from Dan’s face that his dormant passion on music is being finally awakened by Gretta’s music.

beginagain05 Meanwhile, we also see how things were led up to that crucial moment from Gretta’s viewpoint. When she came from England to New York with her successful musician boyfriend Dave(Adam Levine), everything looked fine at first, but then she learned about Dave’s infidelity through his latest song which was composed during his recording session in L.A. Exasperated and broken-hearted, she instantly left his place and moved to a far smaller place belonging to her old friend Steve(James Corden), a jolly, chubby musician who made Gretta perform at the very bar Dan went into.

After her performance, Dan approaches to her and introduces himself as someone who can help her music career. Gretta accepts his offer, and they soon work together on her promotional album. They do not have enough money or resource, but their work process goes smoothly mainly thanks to Dan’s resourcefulness fueled by his enthusiasm on Gretta’s music. Besides Steve, who gladly takes the position of recording engineer with his secondhand equipments, Dan manages to recruit several interested performers, and he also decides to do outdoor recording instead of usual studio recording for not only saving their budget and but also adding a raw touch of style to their recording.

The director/writer John Carney, who previously made a small precious music drama called “Once”(2006), makes the music scenes in his film look lively and vibrant enough to amuse and entertain us. Dan, Gretta, and the other performers in the movie are really having a fun with creating something good, and Dan does whatever he can do for providing his musicians with suitable recording locations. Considering their recording conditions, I have some doubt about the actual sound quality of their final product, but the songs in the movie mostly sound good on the soundtrack, and their guerilla performances around New York are accompanied with a number of small funny moments which drew some chuckles from the audiences around me during the screening.

 And some of these songs actually have dramatic purposes while not just being nice songs to be included in the soundtrack album. There is a short but poignant scene where Gretta performs her latest song as her personal message to Dave, and the song clearly tells us(and Dave) how much she felt hurt because of him. Regretting his fault, Dave comes to want the second chance from Gretta, but we also sense a certain possibility between Dan and Gretta, who become a little closer to each other while occasionally spending their time together as friends and partners.

Although looking conventional in its familiar plot, the movie does not overplay the emotions slowly generated between Dan and Gretta, and it leisurely rolls along with them as observing the progress of their relationship with gentle sensitivity. Keira Knightley, who also performed the songs in the movie, has a low-key chemistry with her co-actor Mark Ruffalo, and they are surrounded by the good supporting works by Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, Yasiin Bey, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine, and James Corden, whose amiable performance quickly earns our affection right from his first scene.

When I watched “Begin Again” during last evening, I came into the screening room with no big expectation, and then I found myself enjoying it with smiles and laughs like the other audiences in the screening room. The movie looks a lot more generic compared to that raw charm of “Once”, and I must confess that not many of its songs stuck to my mind after it was over, but I will not deny that it felt to me like a relaxing respite from the summer blockbuster season of this year. This is not exactly a fresh music drama, but it works well enough to be an entertaining one at least.



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