Written and Directed by John Carney.
These days it is harder and harder for me to create empathy with films, especially with stories and I hate it. This is the thing I’m supposed to be good at doing, or rather, what I enjoy the most. My perspective watching Once and now Begin Again, has to be completely different. Am I this ugly cynic who just watches and enjoys painful dramas?
Once takes place in Ireland, a European country, similar to my own. It is easy to create empathy with our protagonists, an Irish lad and a young Eastern immigrant, young talented musicians working with something they absolutely love even though they don’t have necessarily the greatest means to achieve a certain success. Their journey becomes quite intimate, quite personal and with an inspiring hope necessarily based on love. They don’t really have much, but they’re just being themselves really.
Begin Again brings a mixture of success and failure, in certain ways. It takes place in New York, an utterly rich place in diversity, culture, let alone people from all over the world. Some have the greatest means, for example, the owner of the Record Label, played by Mark Ruffalo. Then you also have a musician who had a tremendous success with its previous work, the soundtrack to a film, and his girlfriend, also a musician, but simply not known, they’re Gretta and Dave. She does not go public, so to speak. You immediately think they could be the young couple from Once.
Like so often in life, you have someone looking for something and someone who has that something, but they just don’t know each other, can’t reach each other or so often don’t have the means to reach for that middle term. Dan, the owner of the Record Label is the one searching; he searches for something to fulfill his soul, musically. Gretta, the young musician who isn’t interesting in going public with her music, and just broke up with his musician beau, is the one having that something to fulfill someone else’s heart. In this film, they happen to meet. Dan is able to convince Gretta of producing an album recorded literally in the streets of New York. And just like that, they record an album. It’s the American dream! The thing I have a hard time with because the American dream is a lie. And the music isn’t that special, but that’s another story.
Once and Begin Again, however, gives us something recognizable and relatable that it is inherently artistic and that’s an artist’s unrelentlessness to not give value, in a way, to a determined level of success, and in some cases, even actually being heard. It just doesn’t matter to them. The notoriety, the money, etc., they will do what they love anyway, they will not change their ways. They are quite ready to be poor. This is how Gretta is, to a certain extent (clearly without the poor part). She does decide to record the unusual album, but at the end she also doesn’t care if no one pays her, or better, she has the ability and power really to not give in to a label, no matter how independent and open to his artists it might be.
Begin Again means way more than it actually looks, I think. It not only portrays artists, their own unrelentlessness to discredit success, but it also portrays the Music industry and the recording issues of the moment. It is quite sober. Then finally, it really does the unthinkable.
Let’s all take a moment now. Let’s all take a moment, because Begin Again is a film where there’s a female protagonist, or you can also say that is a co-lead with Mark Rufallo. Even so, Gretta, played by the worth every second on screen Keira Knigthley, a female, who comes to New York with her solid boyfriend who dumps her after a cute Asian assistant, is incredibly talented, doesn’t give a fuck about labels and actually recording for them, who then leaves her boyfriend and records an album, and at the end of the film, does not choose either of her male co-protagonists, her boyfriend Adam Levine, nor the record owner Mark Rufallo. Utterly unprecedented. You seriously cannot believe it and it feels wonderful. Keira Knightley’s smile at the end is everything. Great end.
I don’t know why and how, but this film looks like nothing special, a minor Hollywood product but at the same time, it brings solid insight because it actually tells something and it is honest. So I had a hard time throughout the film, convincing myself a young musician playing in the streets and bars is able to live in New York, even though where he actually lives could probably be the size of my bedroom.