The word “again” in the title is perhaps apropos due to there being quite a few genre cliches in this film, but then again, Hollywood is kind of built on clichés, and one of them is actually found in the premise of this story. And if there’s one thing Hollywood does well though (albeit this time shifting to the streets of New York), it’s repackaging the same merchandise.
College sweethearts and singer-songwriter couple Gretta (Keira Knightley) and Dave (Adam Levine) go for the big time in New York where Dave has landed a major record deal. But the trappings of fame, fortune and the rock star life soon take their toll. Meanwhile a washed up down-on-his-luck middle-aged producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is reaching the end of his tether and about to lose the record label he co-founded. ‘Begin again’ is about the moment when two lost souls experiencing their own turmoil, find each other through music, to go on and form some fresh musical inspiration as they both search for meaning, happiness and a fresh start in the big Apple.
The musical element will attract a certain crowd, but don’t let Keira Knightley’s name fool you, this is no typical romantic comedy, it is actually one of the more genuine comedies to find its way to the screen this year, so guys and girls can enjoy it alike. And fear not, the hipster elements are rather toned down.
It must be said that I’m not the biggest Kiera Knightley fan, which is a bummer for me since she seems to be everywhere these days, having long since cracked Hollywood’s “IT-girl” list (joining the likes of Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence and the recently inducted Shailene Woodley). However, much to my surprise, Begin Again is better for her presence, I believe because it plays to her strengths and even vaguely seems somewhat close to home for her.
As a whole, although this film does contain (as mentioned) some clichés, it seems to get away with them due to the humour and authenticity of the performances, as well as the healthy musical talent on offer/display with several cameos, among them Mos Def and C Lo Green playing a character not far removed from himself. There are some decent serious moments which ground the film, which as a whole comes across as something of an Ode to New York (reflected in the film’s alternate title of ‘New York Melody’… actually it also went by another, more direct, name ‘Can a song save your life?’).
In and amongst the genre formulas (e.g. troubled teenager – and other characterizations; New York – that can be a formula too…) you will find the obligatory plot conveniences and lucky breaks, but at no point do they burden the story.
What is refreshing is that although it is a character driven tale/melody (no this is NOT a musical), the writers kept things moving to a natural progression such that it remains a more open ended affair, as they allowed the musical and artistic elements to take precedence and form as the reflection of the character’s lives and arcs. (Though don’t expect the August Rush-esc climax.) In that they’ve generated a film that despite not being all that new in concept and story, still somehow feels fresh.
An enjoyable watch that benefits from favoring simplicity over the spectacular.