So why did I pick to watch this one? Well, being an avid fan of writer/director John Carney’s work on SING STREET, it came to my attention that he also wrote and directed this one too. As I usually appreciate an artist’s work more when they do both the writing and directing, it just feels like more passion and/or care goes into them. At least… that’s what I imagine. George Lucas’ prequel Star Wars films aren’t considered very good, but you can tell he at least likes them, and as a fellow artist, I can respect that. But I’m getting sidetracked. I wanted to see if this movie would have the same passion put into it as it clearly was in SING STREET. So without further adieu, this is my honest opinion of BEGIN AGAIN.
Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a record producer who was recently let go from his job. He’s not viewed in the kindest ways to his ex-wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and his teenage daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Gretta (Keira Knightley) is songwriter who dated Dave (Adam Levine), a rising musician whom used to work very closely with Gretta on songwriting. Unfortunately, he cheated on her and now she wants to go back home. But not before her very good friend Steve (James Corden) drags her to an open mic bar where she winds up on stage to sing a song. As it happens, Dan is there too and thinks that Gretta has some serious talent. He strikes up a conversation with her and wants to sign her on for a record deal. Although she’s hesitant at first, she agrees. But Dan’s record company doesn’t. In order to get them to agree, Dan and Gretta decide to make an outdoor record and hire the rest of the bandmates from elsewhere to create amazing music.
Man, I gotta say, it didn’t really blow me away. I mean, it’s in no way bad, it’s good, but… ehhh, let’s get into it.
Let me start with the set-up, no comparing or contrasting here. The opening scene is Gretta performing in the bar and Dan looking on when she’s done. But then we cut to a flashback on how Dan got to that bar, and listened to Gretta’s song. Then we cut to yet another flashback of Gretta’s life prior to the bar and how she got to singing on stage. Typically, I don’t have a problem with flashback scenes. I mean, look at me, I love TV shows like LOST and ONCE UPON A TIME, and those shows have a fetish for flashbacks. But those flashbacks have a purpose, to reveal a part of the character’s personality and give a more in depth look into who they are. You couldn’t just play the events chronologically. I feel like both character’s flashbacks would have benefited by simply playing their stories in order, or simply do away with those events all together. There’s no other flashbacks in the movie and anything that has to be reminisced is simply talked about by the characters. So the flashbacks in the beginning feel… unnecessary.
Now we get into the “compare and contrast,” which I really hate to do when movies aren’t remakes of any kind to each other, but… SING STREET and BEGIN AGAIN are remarkably similar to each other. Guy wants to start a band for/with a girl, guy comes from a broken family, girl was in a broken relationship, they perform their first song in a rundown alleyway, the guy goes all Commander Shepard and recruits a squad of random bandmates, perform their music almost exclusively outside, the list kind of goes on. So… yeah, compare and contrast.
The main reason why this movie didn’t work as well for me: the music. Clarification, the purpose of the music. SING STREET’s music had a function. Every song that’s made in the movie, you know the why and how of it. Conor likes Raphina, he starts a band, makes a song about her, and she likes it. As their relationship grows, his music gets better, and the more powerful his music becomes. Each song radiates with Conor’s emotions and thoughts, almost like a proper musical. In that respect, the music in the movie is a character in itself. That’s where BEGIN AGAIN fell a little short for me. Like SING STREET, the music is great to listen to, but it feels… disconnected from the characters. Yes, Dan and Gretta both have musical backgrounds, but the nitty gritty details about their problems are: Dan is trying to make his family whole again, and Gretta’s trying to move on from her cheating ex-boyfriend. Dan and Gretta meet and make music to get their lives back on track. As far as I was able to tell, with the exception of Gretta singing into her ex’s voicemail, the music isn’t meant to express how the characters feel, it’s just a plot device. I feel like the music here is cosmetic at best, whereas the music in SING STREET was integral.
But I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t like this movie.
Ruffalo and Knightley are unbelievable. They have incredible chemistry, as does much of the cast. I read on IMDb that a lot of the film is improv. It’s pretty obvious to spot, but those are the scenes that feel like the most endearing. There’s a real connection with the actors, a comradery that feels authentic and is really engaging. To be able to capture that and make it feel organic to the story never ceases to amaze me. Like I said, the music is great. I have a leaning toward the 80’s music of SING STREET, but this stuff is very nice to listen to, a very relaxing kind of movie. Not as many heartstrings being tugged on, but it’s hard to deny the grasp the story has on your emotions.
I would say if you liked SING STREET, you’ll like this movie fine. But in my opinion, watch BEGIN AGAIN first as SING STREET is basically a superior and more enjoyable version. Expect a ton of parallels in story elements, but both are very much worth the time.
My honest rating: 4/5