Begin Again: Sweat, Tears, and Music

By Sandra Olmsted    

Begin Again is primarily a film about the blood, sweat, and tears that go into making a music video; however, it is also about the relationship between two damaged, hunting people who find a common purpose. There is also delicious sexual tension, but viewers will have to see the movie to find out if the claim made in When Harry Met Sally about a man and a woman not being friends without sex holds true in writer-director John Carney’s Begin Again. The story opens with a nonlinear section which tells the main characters’ version of events leading up to a chance meeting, but after this clearly delineated beginning, Carney switches to a traditional linear narrative.

Greta (Keira Knightley), a talented musician, and Dave (Adam Levine), her newly-minted, rock star boyfriend, move to New York City for his career. Soon famous gets the best of Dave, and he cheats on Greta. Their relationship ends, and Greta finds herself sleeping on the couch of an old college friend, Steve (James Corden), a not so famous musician with lots of recording equipment and skills. Although Greta plans to return home to England the next day, Steve shames her into performing a song at an open mic night in a local bar.

Dan (Mark Ruffalo), once a famous music producer, happens to hear her song and decides that she could be his ticket back to the top except Dan has just been fired, again, and maybe permanently, from the company he founded. The events that brought him to the bar also include spending a less than delightful afternoon with his teenage daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) while Miriam (Catherine Keener), the music journalist wife he loves but is separated from, finishes an article. He also stops by the office and gets fired by his partner Saul (Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def) in front of his daughter. Dan comes to bar to drown his sorrows, but finds hope in the possibility of making Greta a star.

The problems will be convincing Greta that she should trust him, convincing Saul to back the venture, and getting a demo album recorded. While Begin Again provides a fascinating peek inside how the music industry is changing due to the internet and technology, the heart of the film examines the way the heartbreak that Greta and Dan experience in their relationships shapes how they move forward with their lives. Although Greta and Dan clearly like each other and share many common interests, Carney toys with whether they will sleep with each other or not.

Cinematographer Yaron Orbach and his camera love the commonplaces of New York, such as subway platforms, Central Park, rooftops, etc., where Dan and Greta record the album, guerilla style. New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander captures the bittersweet emotions of the characters in the many songs he provides. Carney’s pacing and storytelling mirror the less dramatic and more emotional nature of Alexander’s music, and Carney’s screenplay doesn’t compel as much as present a slowly unfolding relationship. Carney includes some big surprises that make the story and characters more interesting. The solid performances enhance the powerful emotions, and Knightley and Ruffalo have positive chemistry while Ruffalo and Keener have a complicated chemistry indicative of the hurt, betrayal, and infidelity that has driven Dan and Miriam apart.

Begin Again, a release of The Weinstein Company, is rated R for language and runs 104 minutes. Ideal for music lovers and those who enjoy life-affirming stories, Begin Again is in theaters now. More of Olmsted’s reviews can be found at <>.

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