Begin Again (2014)

Just pick up anything and play! But don’t forget to cover something from Frozen. That seems to be the “hip” thing to do nowadays.

After Dan (Mark Ruffalo) gets dropped from the music label he helped build, the man dives into a bit of a drunken-stooper. And somewhere along the night, he ends up in a bar where he hears a song being performed by a small, rather sweet British gal by the name of Greta (Keira Knightley). Though the people around him don’t really think much of her song and only use her as background music, Dan sees, hears and feels potential, which is why he doesn’t hesitate a single second to get her information right after the performance. Though she’s a bit reluctant to start diving right into recording and all that, Greta eventually gives in and Dan finds any which way he can, with anybody he can find with enough time on their hands, to help him record at least two or three songs of Greta’s own doing. But both of their troubled-pasts may come back to haunt them if they aren’t lucky enough, especially in Greta’s case where her ex-boyfriend (Adam Levine), also just so happens to be the hottest and coolest, up-and-coming talent out there in the mainstream today.

After finally seeing Once and really enjoying all that it set out to be, I must say, I was relatively excited for another movie in which John Carney would be jumping back into the world of musicals. However, where as that movie was a small, intimate musical that looked as if it had been made for a dime and a Big Mac, this one is a lot larger, broader and definitely with a bigger-budget. All that aside though, all that matters is that the songs are not only catchy, but actually good and feel like they build to something more than just a couple of neat hooks here and there. There has to be emotion, there has to be feeling, and most of all, there has to be inspiration for the songs we hear and the reason for which they exist.

You know it's true love when they start taking selfies together.
You know it’s true love when they start taking selfies together.

A sort-of musical that comes to my mind is Inside Llewyn Davis which, through the songs played by that titled-character, we got a glimpse into who he was and what it was that he felt as a person. Sure, the songs themselves were catchy and well-constructed, but there was so much more heart and soul put into them, that it felt like a person really letting us know who he was, rather than some dude who is trying to be heard on the radio. You know, not like the songs that we have here.

And yes, that is to say that most of the songs here are catchy, in that, as soon as I left the theater, I was humming the tunes to the songs, but totally forgot about them as soon as I got into my car and hooked up my iPod to the aux. But that’s also to say the songs never really feel like they’re giving you more information about these characters than we already know, or have heard alluded to before. Save for the opening-track that Greta plays about feeling lost and abandoned in the Big Apple, which actually gives us a clear view into who this character is and why it is she feels this way. Every other song, though entertaining to listen to for the time being, don’t really have much of an impact.

Which, for a movie that prides itself on its love for music and the thrill one gets when they are in the act of creating something, is definitely a disadvantage. Especially considering that with his previous-musical, Carney was able to construct something sweet and everlasting that could be connected with, even if you weren’t a musician to begin with. Here, it feels like in order to really connect with any of these characters, or what it is that they’re making, you have to at least have some foot in the door of music, or else it may not matter much to you whether or not they all end up getting a record deal at the end.

Also not to mention that Carney is extremely sentimental here with his script; it’s the conventional story of a girl, fighting all against the odds stacked up against her trying to make it big, while the man she’s investing her future in is still suffering from his divorce and the disconnect he feels with his daughter. If you’ve heard of that plot-line before, don’t worry, so have I and Carney continuously milks it for all that he’s got, even if he knows he’s soaking up in the sap. Which can be fine if there’s more sentiment added onto the sap, but here, we get some thinly-written characters who are here to just service the plot, aka, “the jams”, baby.

"Who needs that mainstream crap like producing an album in a studio?!? Fresh air is all you need, man!"
“Who needs that mainstream crap like producing an album in a studio?!? Fresh air is all you need, man!”

Which wouldn’t be such a problem with most movies, but when you have a cast this stacked, it makes you wonder just how nice that paycheck was looking. Mark Ruffalo is okay as Dan and has some nice one-liners, but feels like he’s too amped-up on coffee most of the time, which is rather strange considering he’s supposed to be playing a down-and-out bum with a drinking problem; Keira Knightley is given more to do as the meek and kind Greta, while also showing off her mighty fine pipes which service these songs for what they are; and Hailee Steinfeld for what seems like the umpteenth time I’ve seen her playing an angst-fueled, angry teenage girl that clashes with all adults around her, does a nice job and shows that she’s one of the better, brighter talents out there.

The one who actually surprised the hell out of me here was Adam Levine as Greta’s ex-boyfriend who, believe it or not, cheats on her and leaves her for a big career in music, where he loses his identity and even grows a big, hip beard. Sound like somebody you know? Anyway, what’s so good about Levine here is that while it could have been quite easy for him to just play his normal deuchy-self, the guy does well showing us a true character that not only loves his girlfriend, but actually wants to see what this whole rock ‘n roll lifestyle is about. In a way, he feels more human than anybody else here which, I imagine for most significant-others for other big-time musicians out there, may in fact be terrifying.

Consensus: Light, frothy and pleasant for its near-two hour run-time, Begin Again may not ask much of its audience except to just enjoy the numerous songs it plays, which, depending on the kind of viewer it’s speaking towards, may or may not be enough.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Hide the cone. Don't want Dairy Queen calling its lawyers up.
Hide the cone. Don’t want Dairy Queen calling its lawyers up.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images



  1. iiiiiiiiii don’t quite know man, I might not agree with you on this man. Haha! I loved this. I thought Ruffalo was superb in his role, even though he was kinda a jerk and his treatment of himself was kinda cliched and what-have-you. But I agree on our take about Levine, he felt more ‘genuine’ of a character than most of them. BUt still I would’ve maybe given this a 7.5. Great review all the same!

  2. I get why a lot of this felt phony to you but the spirit of the film won me over and for me personaly it edged JUST the right side of being too cliche and I had a good time with it.

  3. Interesting review yo, you seemed to be a lot more critical of the film than I was, though your negative points about the film’s conventional story and some of the music is partly justified and some of those points I never took into consideration. That being said I really enjoyed this film, a hell of a lot more than I ever expected, I just loved the feel-good vibe it brought and that it didn’t have some cheesy love story at the center of it which I feared from seeing the trailers.

  4. Interesting review. I haven’t seen it yet and this sounds like it may not be something I need to rush out to see. Still kinda anxious for it to be honest.

  5. I haven’t seen this one, and honestly never plan on it, but it’s interesting what you’ve said about Adam Levine. I think he’s a huge, giant douchenugget, but his character actually sounds very cool. Nice review, Dan!

  6. Good review! I was intrigued, but not enough to make it out to the theatre. I’m glad to hear Adam Levine’s acting and Keira Knightley’s voice weren’t part of the problem. I look forward to redbox-ing.

  7. I agree that this film will NOT win any awards for screen writing – but neither will Captain America, Leggo, Spiderman, X-Men, Transformers, Godzilla, Planet of the Apes, Tammy, or Lucy. And most of those have made, or are making the cash registers ring and sing for their studios.

    But this is a film that felt real and felt good. And even if you want to call it cheesy, corny, or even sappy, that is a matter of choice. But honestly, I believe that there’s only a very small group, who will come away thinking that way.

    I think this is a perfect film for folks who don’t want to worry about master villains, drugs, cops, chases, bullets, and explosions. The real sophistication about this film is that you can likely see and meet folks just like these in any urban setting. On the other hand, when are any of us going to meet Lucy?

  8. I think what you’re getting at is the generic underdog story but I would say that the OST more than made up for it. That, and superb acting from Mark Ruffalo. Great review. 😀

  9. I think I enjoyed this movie more than you did, but I’m glad you did like it. Also, I needed to comment just to thank you for the awesome caption on the photo . . . taking selfies in a car while pretending to talk and laugh definitely means love, haha.

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