BEGIN AGAIN follows Gretta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine), college sweethearts and songwriting partners who decamp from the UK to New York when Levine’s character lands a deal with a major label. Of course, he soon strays, hooking up with an A&R girl on tour, and leaves Gretta on her own. Dan (Mark Ruffalo), is just as lost, having been forcibly removed from the label he started because he seemed uninterested in the business aspects of music. The film premiered last year at TIFF, under a terrible title, “Can A Song Save Your Life?” – which fortunately has been drop-kicked for this release.
I don’t know why I’m holding back on positivity in this review. I really enjoyed BEGIN AGAIN, and I’m sure you will as well. I even called a songwriter I know after the screening and told him he had to see the film, because it was so inspiring. I guess I just wish there didn’t have to be such a recognizable actor playing the lead. It is somewhat painful to watch so much cutting around Keira Knightley’s obvious not-playing of guitar (although she does sing her own songs).
Why not just find an unknown? Or another musician like the Adam Levine choice. I’d love to see Lisa Loeb if you need a somewhat name, or someone fresh like the amazing Meg Myers. You’ve got Ruffalo’s name, and then a great supporting cast like Keener and Mos Def (as Ruffalo’s label partner), why does the film need Knightley? Casting CeeLo Green as friend of Ruffalo’s also seemed forced, especially when it was unclear if it was supposed to be CeeLo or some other artist that looks and acts exactly like CeeLo. And there is nothing wrong Knightley’s performance at all. But in ONCE, it was unmistakable those ‘actors’ had written those songs and they meant a lot to them. Begin Again’s songs, for all the movie is about creating them, arrive a little too polished to really capture the true grit of the process. According to Billboard, the film features songs “co-written by Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Glen Hansard” – Hansard is the man behind the tracks in Once, but this is not the same film.
So the film is almost brilliant, but in the end, comes off a little disappointing. The lack of conflict through the entire film is something that gets you near the end – all the drama is in the side stories (Ruffalo w/ his daugher, ex-wife, Knightley w/ her ex-boyfriend). There isn’t much of any between the two leads, they are on the same page from the beginning and have a very vanilla non-sexual relationship, which, while refreshing, does not leave much at stake between them. There is a nice bit of non-traditional structure, when we see each story start until they intersect at the club, but that is soon forgotten after that moment (i.e. the other 80% of the film). Another thing that bothered me is the tacked-on ending after the credits begin that really seemed to be ‘paying-off’ a different film than the one I just watched. Finally, there is an incredibly sloppy continuity error where the ‘band’ is shown rehearsing before half of the band joins the band. All of this sort of adds up to a film that is almost a great follow-up to ONCE, but ends up sort of in its shadow.