Once (2006)

Them Irish sure can drink. But you know what else? They can sure as hell sing! While drinking I presume.

A middle-aged street musician (Glen Hansard) who has recently gone through a rough break-up tries to see if he can make ends meet by working in his father’s vacuum-fixing shop, while also playing his guitar and singing on the streets. Late one night while he’s passionately doing so, a young girl (Markéta Irglová) comes around, gives him ten cents, and automatically strikes up a conversation with him. In fact, she takes a bit of a liking to him, however, he doesn’t seem like he’s all that interested because he has yet to get over his ex and the heartbreak she caused him. So instead, they decide to put aside their feelings for one another and just rock! Well, not necessarily “rock”, but more like just play their instruments, make music, write lyrics and see what they can come up with together. Eventually, they do and there’s even a chance that they could record some of their material. The only problem is that he wants to leave for London soon and even worse, he wants her to come with him – something she doesn’t want to do because she has a child and is still married to an estranged husband.

There’s definitely a problem that most people have with musicals, that I don’t holy disagree with. For one, they can be pretty cheesy. When a person breaks out into song in the middle of a story being developed, only to just keep the plot moving along, it’s pretty laughable and while it may work for some movies, it doesn’t for others. That said, I enjoy musicals that not only have fun, catchy tracks, but I also appreciate when the musical-format is at least shaken up a bit. And because it’s such a generic genre that seems to churn out the same repetitive style of “song, plot, song, plot, song”, it’s hard to really differentiate one from the other.

"You like music? Hey, me too! You know what else I like? Food!"
“You like music? Hey, me too! You know what else I like? Food!”

All a viewer has are the songs that they hear from the musical and that’s about it. If they’re catchy, then great; practically all else about the movie can sort of be put on the back-burner. But if they don’t have catchy/good songs, then there’s no point in really making it a musical to begin with. Okay, that’s a bit harsh, but you get what I’m saying: If you make a musical, you better make damn sure your tracks are the least bit of being memorable and worth listening to, because if not, you’re going to have a whole bunch of angry musical-fans.

And trust me, those are not the people you want to tick off.

However, something tells me that Once totally did and it shouldn’t. Sure, it’s a musical, but it’s not one of those over-the-top, fantasy-world musicals that I talked about before when a person jumps up to start singing and dancing in the middle of a conversation; this is a lot more about spontaneity and how every song presented to us, is felt through these characters. That said, it was a very neat trick writer/director John Carney used when he decided to not only make most of these scenes real-life, actual performances of the songs being performed, but to also make it seem like these two types of characters would actually start jamming out as soon as they felt the need to flow through their body.

Both of these characters (who go unnamed the whole time), are a tad lonely, sad, and wanting to break out of their shells. However, they have a gift, and that’s the gift of music. That’s why when they eventually meet up and start hitting it off real nice, you believe it, way before they both infamously sit down at a piano and start harmonizing about life. Not only is that scene in particular a beautiful one, but it’s the earliest example of how in-tune this movie is to its characters, that we ourselves would actually buy the fact that they’d just want to spend an afternoon, singing and making music.

However, it’s not just how the characters are written that makes them flow so honestly, it’s also that Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová are very good together and make us believe in these two together, every step of the way. The word on the street is that during the filming of this, they were actually quite the item and it totally shows (even if there is that old myth about how couples in real life, perform terribly together in front of the camera). They have a lovely chemistry that is built upon a love for music and living life, and it isn’t cutesy or over-done whatsoever; it’s just simply them, being themselves.

And since they aren’t actually actors and just two people who got thrown into the same movie together, they feel natural. They don’t overdo it for the camera and they sure as hell don’t seem like they want to go for an Oscar – they are just acting as how they would with one another in real life. You can not only see that, but you feel that, especially during the performance of their songs.

Now, I’ve clearly made a mention as to how great the songs in this movie are and it’s not like I’m going to try and repeat everything that everybody else who has seen this movie has already said. Yes, the soundtrack is lovely and really is a whole other character in this movie, but works so well about it is that it tells us just who these characters are, why they matter to us, and why exactly we should want to see them together, yet at the same time, not really either. They both love music, but each other isn’t really quite established yet. However, the music is what draws them closer and closer and without really talking or exchanging in non-stop conversation, they get to know everything about the other. It’s quite a beautiful thing really, and for somebody who played as a drummer in a band a little here and there during high school, I for one thing can say that two people connecting on similar musical-interests is a wonderful fact of life that cannot ever be destroyed.

Less of a garage band, and more of a "bed band". That should totally catch on.
Less of a garage band, and more of a “bed band”. That should totally catch on.

Sure, a human connection in general is great and all, but when you have a guitar, a mic, and some lyrics in your hand, it’s always best to just belt out you feelings, and it’s even better when somebody else is there to do that with you.

Man, I really got to get back in the music-biz.

Anyway, if there’s any problems I had with this movie, it was that there was at least one song and one scene that I would have gotten rid of, and that’s only because it just didn’t have the same affect that so many of the other musical-numbers did. Without saying too much, it’s a scene that takes place during a walk throughout the streets, in which we see a character singing along to a tune and coming up with lyrics as they walk. To me, it felt a bit too corny and stagey for my own liking, if only because the rest of the movie didn’t flow this way and it seemed odd.

Then again, they’re the ones with the Oscar, so it goes to show you what I know!

Consensus: Once tinkers around with the conventions of the musical genre enough times that it not only feels fun and fresh, but also realistic enough to have one believe in this premise, these characters, and the lovely music that they create.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Perfect "unofficial last album" album cover.
Perfect “unofficial last album” album cover.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJoblo


  1. Musicals just never seem to hit the spot for me, but, still, I should check this one out at some point. Nice write-up!

  2. Great review! I love Once. This is one of the reasons I’m grateful for the Oscars, because I’m not sure I would’ve run across this movie otherwise had they not been nominated for Best Original Song.

  3. Nice review. I watched (and reviewed: http://wp.me/p7SVH-2t) this in 2008. I also bought the CD for the soundtrack after that. Since I have heard the music many times since, but not the movie, I didn’t really remember too much about it. Your review inspired me to pick it up again.

  4. Nice review. I’m not big into musicals but this really struck a chord with me. It not only felt really heartfelt and emotional but real.

  5. I enjoyed this one. I thought it was unique without the feeling that the music was out of place. To make it work so seamlessly was a real asset and the fact the songs are so good obviously helps.

  6. The music in this film is amazing. I don’t make a habit of buying soundtracks, but I picked this one up immediately after seeing the movie.

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