Copyright © 2014 by The Weinstein Company
A record label executive, Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is released from his company for not signing any new talent. Gretta (Keira Knightley) has just left her unfaithful boyfriend, Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) and is living temporarily with her best friend, Steve (James Corden). Steve drags her out to a bar where he performs for her to forget her sorrow. Coerced into performing a number for the audience, Gretta sings one of her penned songs which is coldly received by all except Dan who has been drinking after a confrontation with his wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener) about their daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Seeing the potential, he convinces Gretta to sign a record deal with him but she declines, fearing fame will compromise her beliefs as a real musician. However, she changes her mind and allows Dan to help her produce a live album centred in the open areas of New York City during the months of summer.
Much has been lauded about John Carney’s previous directorial effort, ‘Once’, a musical about the music industry made on a shoestring budget and gained deservedly recognition from a win in the Academy Awards for ‘Best Original Song’, upstaging veterans Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s three-time nomination for the equally acclaimed ‘Enchanted’. Since then, ‘Falling Slowly’ has seen many renditions including Il Divo, Josh Groban and Shayne Ward tailoring to their own styles but it is ‘American Idol’ winner Kris Allen’s intimate live cover that is regarded a moving favourite by many.
Where does he go from here? Why of course to ride on the original’s victorious coattails and follow it up with ‘Once Again’, I mean ‘Begin Again’, a souped-up retelling of opportune moments in the most unexpected circumstances. While ‘Once’ depended only on its affable charm and infectious music to hoist the movie from its simplistic nature, Carney’s latest boasts plenty of star power. An intelligent move for a bigger turnout on opening day but it does surprisingly little on a creative level.
Other than the naturally shared chemistry among the main cast, the lead roles could have easily been undertaken by anyone with less acting experience (which is why I thought recruiting two coaches from reality-based singing competition, ‘The Voice’ and accomplished musicians on their own right who are expanding their gamut did not bother me one bit). In fact, Levine of ‘Maroon 5’ and CeeLo Green turn out to be much better actors than I could have possibly hoped.
True, Levine can be a lot more comfortable on screen but his personality comes through enough to even consider forgiving his infidelity towards his partner of several years. Certainly a good start as compared to Mariah Carey’s disastrous and Britney Spears’ by the numbers debuts. It is the foursome of Knightley, Ruffalo, Steinfeld and Keener who do not break new ground on what would typically be Oscar bait; all have the distinction of being nominees before.
It could be inadequate writing to character development as the strongest in the bunch, Knightley is still a far cry from her best. Carney’s focus on the wheeling and dealing of the entertainment industry and the trials of preserving an unaltered identity provide a fairly thorough insight to a struggling artiste who has to choose if selling out is the only way of obtaining artistic integrity. Praises also go to the songwriting team for delivering one helluva of a soundtrack – it will keep you grooving (and tearing) to Gretta and Dan’s journey for a second chance. And sometimes, that may just be enough to get by on a lazy afternoon.
Rated R for language