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November 10, 2014

DVDFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

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Synopsis: A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between the two talents.

Music is important. With or without words, the perfect rhythm can enter our body and bring about feelings we didn’t even know we were having. To say I am envious of musicians’ ability to create such responsive material is an understatement. Mix this emotion-extracting skill with that of great filmmaking and, well, you’ve got an audience in puddles of happiness on the floor.

John Carney, the musician/filmmaker behind the hit feels-fest Once strikes twice with Begin Again. Internet forums will tell you ‘Once was better’ but, whilst similarly themed, the two films race along on different merits, of which Begin Again has many.

On the surface the film is about mangled romance and how art influences humanity to strive ahead through its darkest moments. Underneath is the less emotional, but solid commentary on the state of the music industry and truthfully of show-business as a whole. This is a time when artistic integrity is constantly and willingly given up or undermined simply to reach the largest paying audience; it’s a message that we all know but Carney and his impressively diverse cast tell it again so well.

By diverse I don’t mean ethnicities either (although, yes, there is more racial diversity here than in most wide-release films I’ve seen this year), but in the types of talent involved. The ensemble cast consists of veteran actors (the inscrutably rugged Mark Ruffalo and amazing Catherine Keener), the oft-overlooked (Keira Knightley, whose performance reaches Never Let Me Go levels), the surprising and babyfaced (James Corden and Hailee Steinfeld), popular and classic musical figures (Cee Lo Green and Mos Def getting in small but impactful moments) and Adam Levine with a glued-on beard.

I could talk for hours about how much I want to befriend Mark Ruffalo’s washed-out music producer/inattentive father/penniless drunk but props have to be dedicated to Keira Knightley here. So many popular singers turn to acting, and popular actors to singing, and it’s rare that either ever make much of an impact. In Begin Again Knightley gets to take a professional stab in music without leaving her comfort zone and is a surprise knockout. Had another singer had to come in to perform the musical duties of Knightley’s singer-songwriter character, Begin Again’s tracklist would not be as compelling as it is.


Sure, it would be technically great, but knowing that the performer on the film’s many tracks is actually Knightley adds so much to the songs because of her proficiency. I’d also like to give a good, long handshake to whoever recce’d the locations for Begin Again. Although set in New York City the film we are presented with is set in all the Big Apple’s nooks and crannies, giving us backdrops of familiar locations from completely new, cubby perspectives and it’s a subtlety that only improves on what is already a damn fine effort from the cast and crew.

Begin Again often feels like the kind of film that speaks directly to each and every one of us. We’ve all had the moments of doubt, tragedy, anger, happiness and love that are expressed variably throughout (not to mention that we’ve all considered a professional singing career at one point, mostly during showers or facetime with a mirror) and so it’s easy to fall in love with the music and characters of the film. I don’t go in for sentimentality often but Begin Again really knows how to play with one’s heartstrings, and you’d be remiss to not let yours be fiddled with here.

Begin Again is out on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 10th

Stephen J. Bowron