run time: 104 mins
considered: Comedy, Drama, Music
director: John Carney
starring: Mark Ruffalo, Kiera Knightley, James Corden, Hailee Steinfeld, Mos Dof, Karen Pittman, Paul Romero, Catherine Keener, Andrew Sellon, Ed Renninger, Eric Burton, Adam Levine, Marco Assante, Mary Catherine Garrison, Jen Jacob
movie summary: Anyone who has ever dreamed of reaching for the stars and achieving all their dreams has at least thought of packing up their life and moving to New York City. As the great Frank Sinatra once sung, “I’ll make a brand new start of it, In old New York, If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) is one of europe’s most promising singers, he signs with an American record company that brings him and his girlfriend Gretta (Kiera Knightley) to the big city to make music. As a superstar in the making, Dave has no problem attracting women despite having a fantastic girlfriend already, when a trip to Los Angeles to promote his record results in an affair, Gretta is left alone in the big city. Gretta finds a place to crash with her friend Steve (James Corden), a struggling musician himself, who moved to the city in hopes of achieving a dream. In an attempt to help Gretta get over her heartbreak he drags her to an open mic night.
One of the guys in the crowd at open mic night is Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a now former record producer who was just fired from his job earlier in the afternoon. Dan’s life is in ruins, his marriage is over, his daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) hates him, his former business partner is the guy who fired him, and he has a drinking problem. Since he was fired in the afternoon Dan has spent the whole night bouncing from bar to bar looking for free drinks since he is flat-out broke. When he stumbles into the club Steve is begging Gretta to come up on stage to perform one of her songs. When she begins to sing Dan looks up from his drink and hears a sound, a sound he’s been looking for years, a sound that will sell records. While she’s signing a song about being alone in the city Dan envisions a full band playing behind her and how magical the song can be. When she’s done Dan approaches her to tell her that he wants to sing her to a deal, she doesn’t believe he’s a record producer but agrees to go have a drink with him and talk. He makes her an offer that she considers over night.
In the morning Gretta calls Dan and agrees to allow him to record her singing. He goes over his ex-wife’s house to have a shower and shave because he has just found his next big client. The pair head over to his former record company where Saul (Mos Def) loves the demo she plays him but doesn’t think she is worth signing. After being turned down Dan says why not make a record anyways, Gretta points out they don’t have a band or the money to pay people to form a band. They meet up with the famous rapper Troublegum (CeeLo Green) who owes his break into the business to Dan so agrees to front the money to start a band. Dan suggests that they recruit a bunch of unknown musicians to play the drums, piano, bass, and violin which will make their sound more unique. He also suggests that they record outside on the streets of New York and no matter what happens around them those sounds will end up the record.
The group comes together and Gretta begins to write hit songs, Violet notices a change in her dad and wants to be a part of the record. She’s been playing the guitar for a little while and isn’t that good but Gretta welcomes her with open arms. Dan’s ex-wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) has noticed a change in him thanks to the positive influence from Gretta. Things appear to be going well for everyone until Dave is on national TV winning a music award for his album. Gretta calls him and leaves him a voice mail of herself signing a song she wrote, the next morning Dave is in New York begging her for a second chance. Gretta now finds herself in the position to have the guy of her dreams back while finally having her music get the recognition that it deserves.
my thoughts: After seeing the trailer for Begin Again I was intrigued at the idea of the movie and wondered how well Kiera Knightley can sing. When I went on Friday night to see this movie I was impressed with the characters, their abilities, stories, and music. It was hard not to compare it to another musical movie currently in theatres, Jersey Boys, even though they are completely different from top to bottom. In Begin Again we get down to earth characters who sing and write music because they love what they do. They have a gift, a voice that deserves a chance to be heard that normally would go unnoticed if it wasn’t a bunch of bad events. Those events led to something special and life altering.
Mark Ruffalo has been in a variety of roles throughout his career and plays the drunk down on his luck Dan Mulligan perfectly. He’s the kind of guy who continues to buy lottery tickets with no money because the next ticket is going to be the winner, instead of lottery tickets he continues to bet on musicians who may or may not make it. The company that he helped create is tired of his games and his lifestyle so finally cut him loose despite how talented he really is. His personal life has suffered drastically but in true Hollywood fashion one event can lead to a dramatic personality change that will allow him one more chance to fix all the things he’s done wrong.
Kiera Knightley can actually sing. She has a smooth charming voice that would sell records if she actually made one. I know the songs may not actually be hers but they were worth a listen to. When the whole band comes together they help evaluate her voice and lyrics. She plays a character who goes from the top of the world to having her heart smashed all in a short period of time, thankfully she has a support network that will alow her to be herself and turn those hurt feelings into something positive. When she finally gets going on her own, her past comes back and puts her in the awkward position to choose what means more to her. Lucky for her though writing and singing her own songs has given her a better perspective on life to make the right decisions.
One final character I want to quickly talk about is Adam Levine. I read in a newspaper that Adam took this role and didn’t get paid for it, he is a famous singer that wanted a chance to try out acting. I respect him a lot more for that decision and think he did a fantastic job as Dave Kohl, it was a character that was written perfectly for him. His rock star life mirrors that of Kohl’s so it probably wasn’t hard for him to transition from musician to actor. I have a couple of Maroon 5 songs downloaded on computer and think that he can sing, I really enjoyed the performance he puts on at the end of the movie. He sings a song written by Knightley’s character that sums up all the emotions they had for each other. It would be weird to see him in an action movie, but if he takes on roles like this in the future I would continue to applaud him.
my final thoughts: Begin Again is a unique spin on the old story of an upcoming musician who gets the break many others could only dream on. It teases a couple of different storyline directions but ultimately ends like most Hollywood movies do with everyone going home happy.
my star rating: 6 out 10
imdb.com: 7.8 out 10
rottentomatoes.com: 81% out 100%
rogerebert.com: 3 out 4