When I first saw the film poster and the trailer, I assumed that Begin Again was going to be a sort of a May December affair between a record producer (Mark Ruffalo) and his protege (Keira Knightley). While I was on the fence about it, I was intrigued not just because it was a strong lead cast but because it was Adam Levine’s film debut. For some, this would be reason enough to buy a film ticket but when I saw the film’s entirety, I realized the film had so much more to offer than star power. It touches something basic in the audiences and the best part is, it uses music to accomplish this purpose.
Greta (Knightley), a British songwriter, moves to New York when her long time boyfriend and musical partner Dave Kohl (Levine) lands a record deal after successfully doing the score for a blockbuster movie. When Dave dumps her after an extended tour in LA, Greta decides to fly back to England to mend her broken heart. But before she is able to do that, she is discovered by Dan Mulligan (Ruffalo), a down on his luck record producer who has an uncanny vision of music, who offers her a deal straight out. While Greta is initially apprehensive, she bonds with Dan over music and they form an idea to produce a unique record outside of the studio, using the entire city of New York as a backdrop.
I loved Begin Again, from beginning to end, no matter how much some reviewers have bashed Kiera Knightley for being “too thin.” Straight up, how she looks should not be the main focus of criticisms because first and foremost, she is a good actress and she delivered her part of the movie flawlessly. Not once did she stray from her portrayal of a pure artist who never compromises about her artistry and she was charming, abrasive, tough and vulnerable when she needed to be. I never knew that she could sing but she has a really great tone to her voice that sounds really raw but really clean, which is perfect for the role because she was playing an indie singer/songwriter who cared nothing for convention. As for Adam Levine, I saw his acting once in American Horror Story and he was okay but in Begin Again, he has matured a lot and began to show level in his acting. My favorite part was his poignant performance of Lost Stars, where he showed a remarkable range not only in his voice (this dude has a faultless falsetto), but a variety of emotions when he realizes the error of his ways and understands the result of his choices.
However, the star of this show is really Mark Ruffalo, who wore his heart on his sleeve for the entire movie. From his first appearance, audiences will fall in love with his character, no matter how unkempt he looks or how old he appears, compared to his other movies. And its because its obvious behind the flippant remarks that he has been through a lot, lost a lot, but not his love for the purity of music. His portrayal of his vulneraribility is just so amazing that its impossible not to root for his character.
Begin Again also showcases the beauty of New York as a city, away from the glamor and the grind — the side alleys, the skyline, even the streets that are filled with people milling about, going about their business, the steps of the narrow apartments — the film shows that New York, just like any other city is not perfect, yet its a city filled with romance and possibilities. The scenes showcasing Greta and the gang making their records behind the dumpster, on a rooftop, outside of a museum, under a bridge, was a really creative way to connect the city to the music. Mark had a quote after one of the most special scenes in the movie where he and Keira walked around New York listening to music from Greta’s music library, where he said music makes the banalities of normal life become like pearls, and this holds true because when the scene was taking place, everything that was happening all around them seemed to sync with the beat of the sound and it seemed like the beauty of the moment was magnified by meaningful sound.
And speaking of music, music was at the heart of the film and it was awesome to experience. The lyrics were so engaging and so releatable, and just spot on in painting the picture for the story that its hard not to get drawn in by the sound. I loved every song on the soundtrack, and Adam was the perfect guy to sing the theme song. When Usher was praising him in the Voice in saying that he had one of the most unique voices in the industry, that was an absolute truth and you could tell that the acting was only gravy for his part because he was so into the music that it could well be his life story, except for the beard and the douchiness. Its also awesome to know that writer/director John Carney also wrote some of the songs in the film — Like a Fool performed by Keira Knightley with James Corden, who played her best friend in the film, and some in collaboration with Gregg Alexander and Nick Lashley, who were responsible for most of the songs in the movie.
Kudos to the filmmakers for innovative way of presenting the lead characters’ back stories. How they went back and forth before the moment where Greta played her song on stage, and how it was compared to how Dan was listening to it — it was very creative, and very entertaining to see. It made audiences connect to the song on different levels and it was really cool.
All in all, Begin Again was a great feel good movie, because it was so much more than a love story. Its about a journey — a journey made much more colorful by great melodies and great characters. It was about opening up and learning, and not losing oneself to the lights and the sound. It was about one woman finding a connection with another person and finding a family of sorts in a foreign country. It was about a man disillusioned by his industry and finding fresh inspiration in his life and family. It was a story of friendship and finding joy. It was a story about having the power to choose how to start life anew. It was a charming piece of cinema that tugs at the heart and one can’t leave the theater without a smile on their faces.
Begin Again is distributed in the Philippines by Solar Entertainment and will open in theaters July 9.