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“This really is a bit of a long-shot, isn’t it?”

I admit that this film wasn’t really on my radar. I’m just not big on romantic/music-related dramedies. When I first saw the poster for Begin Again I said to myself; “what is this – a slightly different version of Once?” I would later come to discover that both Once & Begin Again were directed by the same person (John Carney). In retrospect I guess that shouldn’t have come as a surprise considering the posters for both films give off the same vibe… begin again Begin Again isn’t a musical, but it is a film about musicians & the music making process, that features real life musicians (Cee-Lo, Mos Def, Adam Levine, etc) acting in prominent roles. And although people don’t randomly break out in song & dance in the middle of the street (…well…technically they kinda do at times), there’s a lot of original music that’s sung in this film. This made me skeptical for a couple of reasons… Making good/great original music for a fictional film isn’t always the easiest task (from Hustle & Flow to Laurel Canyon, recent movie history has only proven this to be a fact). The music for Begin Again wasn’t really my cup of tea. Besides the fact that it was a little cliché, I also found it to be a little flat & empty. But at the same time it is very pop-sounding so I can totally see people who aren’t as picky about music (like me) enjoying it. The other reason I was so skeptical about Begin Again is because musicians don’t always make the best actors. I know that’s an obvious & cliche statement to make in 2014 but its still true. However with this movie, the musicians pretty much stayed in their lanes and played the parts they were supposed too. Cee-Lo basically plays himself, so I guess I can’t really fault him for that in a movie about musicians; Mos Def (who actually has an acting background) gave a more toned down/subdued performance; and even though Adam Levine’s acting wasn’t as terrible as I thought it would be (sorry for pre-judging), I still didn’t see much chemistry between him and star Kiera Nightly who were supposed be playing a couple who had been together for five years. On a side note, I cant decide whose fake movie beard was worse this year – Adam Levine in Begin Again, or Nicholas Cage in Joeadam beard Begin Again is the story of “Greta” (Keira Knightley) & “Dan” (Mark Ruffalo). Greta is a songwriter who recently broke up with her famous musician boyfriend “Dave Kohl” (Adam Levine), while Dan is a down & out former record executive/music producer whose been fired by his longtime friend/business partner “Saul” (Mos Def). After a chance meeting (and some initial resistance) Greta & Dan decide to collaborate on a unique music project idea where they record an album in various outdoor locations throughout New York City with hopes of landing a record deal at Dan’s old label. This movie certainly has it’s share of clichés from the subplot concerning Dan’s teenage daughter to the overall idea of the older washed up music producer (Ruffalo) working with the fresh-faced purist young undiscovered talent that doesn’t want to “sell out” (Knightley). I also feel like this movie was kind of riding on the success of last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis to a certain degree. Besides the fact that both films look at the singer/songwriter process in a similar fashion and also explore the relationships between the artists and “the suits”, there’s similarly executed scenes – At the start of Begin Again we see Greta playing at an open mic lounge with a drunk Mark Ruffalo looking on. The very next seen takes us to an earlier point & time in the very same day with one of the main characters waking up from a rough previous night (which is basically how Inside Llewyn Davis, a movie about singers & songwriters, opens for those who haven’t seen it). On a more positive note, I was glad to see this film touch on the fact that music labels and traditional big budget music studios aren’t as important as they used to be thanks to outlets like bandcamp, soundcloud & youtube and the easy access of music equipment (seriously, you can go to guitar center or go on craigslist and buy all the equipment yourself to make a solid home studio if you want). More artists coming out today are becoming famous/discovered off the Internet as opposed to submitting “demo tapes” to a record label. It’s about time films addressed this more. Begin Again is definitely cool for a date movie or something to see on a lazy weekend afternoon, but at the same time I won’t be talking about this when it’s time to list all the noteworthy films at the end of the year. I do feel like there was an effort to show some kind of authenticity & love of music (even if it was a little naive). I mean, a talented musician buddy of mine (Kid Lucky) makes an appearance in this. For those that don’t know, hes a prominent figure/beat boxer in both the NYC & Czech hip-hop underground scene. So it’s not like John Carney only reached out to pop music figures like Adam Levine & Cee-Lo exclusively. But there’s still a thin layer of “movie fakeness” to it all (for a film that’s supposed to show the music scene in New York City, there were way too many scenes shot exclusively at Union Square as opposed to places like north Brooklyn or the east village). Nevertheless, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (yes I’m a bit of a movie snob but I’ll always admit how wrong I am after I’ve judged something before actually seeing it). Given all the big names attached to this movie, I doubt my criticisms will sway the opinion of anyone who was already going to see this in the first place…

6/10

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Marcus is a contributing author for CutPrintFilm and Editor in Chief of <a href="http://www.pinnlandempire.com/">Pinnland Empire</a> You can also hear Marcus on the <a href="http://www.syndromesandacinema.com/">Syndromes & a Cinema</a> podcast.

  • VoR

    This was shot two years ago. They weren’t trying to “ride on the success of Inside Llewyn Davis” – whatever that means.

    Also, your spelling of Keira Knightley’s name is atrocious.