Begin Again: A Harmoniously Feel-Good Movie
By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor
If Begin Again vaguely rings a bell it’s because it was in contention for best song at the Oscars (a category that really deserves more respect than it gets). If you haven’t heard of this film yet, don’t feel bad; I’m pretty sure my theater only ran it for a week so I think that might be why a lot of people missed this one. I got to say that Begin Again, which is now on Netflix, easily gets a 9 out of 10; only reason it doesn’t get a perfect score is I realize the subject and style aren’t for everyone and a couple of scenes challenged my suspension of disbelief, but that’s really the only gripe I have. So Begin Again, where do I start… there’s a pun there, get it? You’ll figure it out. Read on.
Besides staring two of the most attractive men in show business, Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine, the movie is clever and endearing. Begin Again is a snapshot in the lives of several musicians living in New York City. As someone who comes from a family of musicians- okay that’s probably an overstatement, my mom and I play some instruments – I found the film to be enjoyable, but at the same time I know it’s not going to be everyone’s favorite.
The genre of music is mostly indie pop which is not my go to jam (Queen and Bowie if anyone’s curious) yet considering the overall theme of the film it just works beautifully into the narrative. Also the lyrics are clearly sung and you won’t find yourself needing subtitles for many of the tracks. The only one I had to look up was the one that got the nomination, “Lost Stars,” but that’s mainly because I was distracted by Levine’s impressive falsetto (seriously, he’s jumping octaves while keeping time and pitch). Even if you’re not a fan of Levine’s band Maroon 5, you have to admit, the man has serious chops.
Also surprising is our lead female performance delivered by Keira Knightley. It was stated she sang all of her own tracks and her voice has a sweet softness (and though I wouldn’t want to listen to it every day) which lends itself nicely to the genre. Also her character is just stellar, without giving it all away, she’s traveled to NYC from overseas with her boyfriend who is perusing his music career. Things happen, they break up but she doesn’t really cry about it, instead she puts on her big girl pants and handles it like a champ. She also knows who she is, which is refreshing to see a female character who isn’t fickle about what they want out of life.
However the best performance is by far by Mark Ruffalo, who plays a down and out music producer with a drinking problem. At first Ruffalo is almost unrecognizable as this is far from the nice guy role he usually takes on. This might just be the best performance of his career thus far. Also refreshing is the fact that he and Knightley’s characters do not engage in a romance, rather it’s more of a mentor/pupil relationship which I like because the old love triangle concept has been run rather thin lately.
My one issue with the film is the scenes that revolved around money. I kept thinking how can they pay for everything because they talk about how they don’t have enough money one minute, then the next they’re driving all over town. Also, there’s one scene where Mark Ruffalo’s character skips out on paying for beers in a scene and no one calls the cops. In New York City, really?
I really can’t say more about the film’s plot, it’s just something that needs to be experienced for one self. What I can add is that on the technical side of things, the editor certainly outdid himself by eliminating unnecessary fancy shots and keeping things moving at a fluid pace, as did the cinematographer, whose palette made New York City look like a soft and romantic place. I particularly liked how they shot and put together Mark Ruffalo’s character’s drunken envisionment of all the instruments coming to life during the first song.
A large part of the film is about the music industry trying to create these cookie cutter singers because that’s what they believe the vast majority wants and they know it’s a way to make money. Knightley’s character says it best. To paraphrase: the label wants to sell her album for $10 and she would get a dollar from each sale to which she responds, if she produced it herself and they already have a finished product, why do they get her other nine dollars.
I saw it as a commentary on corporate greed, a subject that has been a hot button issue in my house as of late as my brother and I both play video games and that industry has some practices which really screw over the makers and the fans. Maybe this film didn’t get a long run in the theater or a whole lot of promotion, but maybe that was the point all along. Just some food for thought…