Movie Review: 'Begin Again' (2014)

A tale about pressing the resume button on life, "Begin Again" is about taking those first steps back into a shattered existence and trying to put the pieces of it back together. After getting hit with one setback after another, it is about making the choice to continue instead of starting from scratch that serves as the centerpiece for this musically inclined dramedy.

Writer-director John Carney offers a refreshing change of pace from the regular clichés and grandiose romance that have typically clogged similar fare and for that reason "Begin Again" is difficult to categorize.

It shies away from just about any semblance of a genre production. There is music but it is not a musical. There is drama but there is enough comedy to keep it from solely being a drama and vice versa. There are sparks of romance but it is not a love story. To cut to the chase, it resembles life. A jumble of several elements that come together to form the process known as living.

Mark Ruffalo stars as Dan, a music exec ravaged by a series of career downfalls who stumbles upon Greta (Keira Knightley), a talented singer-songwriter, who might just change around his streak of misfortune. Greta (Knightley) is dealing with her own personal problems following her long-time musician beau (Adam Levine) hitting the big time and their relationship subsequently experiencing a rough patch.

Disillusioned and struggling with whether to move on, music becomes her solace. Music's power to heal is one of the movie's central themes, which is reflected in how it slowly ends up mending each character’s tattered heart throughout the course of the story.

For Dan (Ruffalo) it is the struggle of proving himself as a father, husband and producer. His lastly mentioned role is summed up in a highly inventive sequence that brilliantly illustrates the process of a producer. They possess a rarely sung gift and the scene accurately demonstrates how they can artfully hone a song; elevating and chiseling away at a sometimes hidden gem.

As much as "Begin Again" is a love letter to music as a craft, it also offers a cautionary aspect to the industry. The less discussed nature of the beast comes with acknowledging the all consuming nature of trying to get to the top, staying there and trying to balance a family life while doing so.

This part of the film speaks with overwhelming truth and its gritty honesty is a lot more earnest than the usual gloss the topic receives. As a result the film suffers from a bit of melancholic reality.

Unlike Carney’s Oscar-winning score for “Once”; the music in “Begin Again” never quite lands its punches. It all gels together, a cacophony of melodies that all sound the same and has few show stoppers.

The acting performances offer a different story. Keira Knightley is prim and sophisticated as the heartbroken Greta. The role is a departure from her usually vivacious characters, her typical bite and tenacity lost in the process.

Opposite everyone else she stands out, her manner standing in evident contrast from those around her. She gives a strong performance, accented with vulnerability as she conveys Greta’s pain with a subtle nuance that is heartbreaking and raw.

Mark Ruffalo turns in a genuine performance that swirls with good guy resonance and his usual gift for grungy charm, while Hailee Steinfeld is emotionally disarming as Ruffalo’s estranged daughter. She shares a genuine screen connection with Ruffalo that makes their father/daughter relationship easily believable. Threatening the film's believable atmosphere are spates of jarring celebrity cameos that undermine the frail threads constructing its realism.

“Begin Again” is a slice of New York sensibility and musical chic that avoids movie formulism. The run time could have been shorter and kept at a sharper a pace. However, the heart of the story (and it is a noble one) cannot be ignored. While it experiences a few palpitations along the way, it can mostly be attributed to beating to the rhythm of its own drum. Rating: 6.9/10

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