Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley hit the right notes in ‘Begin Again’

(REVIEW) Dan, Gretta use New York City to reclaim pride and their hearts in John Carney’s feel-good music journey.

You could’t find two characters more fitting for a film titled Begin Again.

Meet songwriter Gretta. She’s talked into reluctantly taking the stage and the guitar from a pal in a New York City bar as he’s finishing his set. She explains that it’s a song she’s just finishing, so it might be raw. As she somewhat shakily sings, the politeness in the room wears off and people begin conversations. Greta gains some confidence as she rolls through her story about facing a crossroads in the subway, but by the end, there’s one interested man clapping rather madly in the middle of the room.

Meet record industry executive Dan. He’s at the tail end of a hard-drinking day because …

Writer and director John Carney adeptly fills the screen with back stores to heighten each’s separate despair.

A rumpled Mark Ruffalo is superb as Dan Mulligan, who at one time was part of a two-man indie record team that put the Manhattan music industry on its ear, making a couple of big stars in the process, particularly Troublegum, played with a heart of gold and memory of an elephant by Cee Lo Green. But that was then. Now Dan can’t find a musician to make a hit record. His partner has lot his patience with Dan’s drinking, tardiness, arrogance … you name it. He’s fired. To make matters worse, he’s separated from his wife, living in a dump of an apartment, and losing touch with his teen daughter.

Watch the trailer for Begin Again here:

A wounded Keira Knightley is exquisite as Gretta. She moved to the city as the musical partner of musician Dave Wohl, played by Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine. But the record label wants more Dave and less Gretta. Dave’s business trip west leads him astray and …

That night in the bar, very drunk Dan envisions a very full band arrangement of Gretta’s spare song. He seeks her afterward, lies about his record ties, comes clean, talks her up, tells his story, comes up with a recording idea, makes promises, makes her promise to call him in the morning before going through with her idea of moving back to Ireland …

She does. They click. His idea to record her songs using quite beautiful New York City as the ambient background is quite brilliant. Her hometown friend who called her up the night she and Dan met turns out to be quite the recording engineer, and the cast of musicians Dan convinces to record on a back-end payment deal — enter Troublegum’s pay-it-back benevolence here, too — clicks like magic. In the midst of all this, Gretta meets Dan’s daughter, gives her tips on dressing to catch boys, and invites her to play guitar on one the tracks for the album. Dan and Gretta talk about what led to his marital troubles, much as she spilled her beans to him.

Ruffalo and Knightley’s chemistry builds around music, family and friendship, she with the slightly crooked teeth and he with the sort of bugging eyes. Those slight imperfections also fit the story so well, make it real. Isn’t the music business, family, friendship, love, filled with ups and downs.

Yes, they are.

Begin Again allows us to soar with the ups and feel the stomach churns with the downs, and be happy with Dan and Gretta support each other to the end and make good decisions together and independently.

The music they make together is pretty sweet, too. One of the best metaphors from Carney is the scene that allows Gretta and Dan to walk the city with two ear buds plugged into one music source, alternating between her’s and his songs of their lives. They delight in each other’s choices. And the scene on the roof when Dan’s daughter Violet, played with perfect amounts of teen angst and love by Hailee Steinfeld, hits her guitar riff perfectly to take a good song to great, well, if that doesn’t make you pump your fist, you don’t like to rock.




Mark BialczakMark Bialczak is a veteran journalist who has lived in the Syracuse area since 1983. In early 2013, he was set free to write about whatever he wants. Click here to read Mark’s BLOG.

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