Begin Again

Posted by Joel Copling on July 2, 2014

Music is, perhaps, a form of magic beyond most others on planet Earth. Blessed with powers to injure and to alleviate injury, music of any genre is an incredible tonic, embuing any situation with a different tone--especially when listening, say, to an iPod through the designated earbud speakers that come with it. It's this idea, that music repairs and causes wounds in a cyclical process, that "Begin Again" gets right. Really, the duo (or trio) of stories about lost people finding their paths is less crucial than that it happens through the reparative act of listening to music or being in the presence of a performance or concert that involves music. Whatever else that strikes as conventional or banal cannot compete.

There is Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a record executive--soon to have "former" in front of that title--who has a breakdown of sorts, loses his job, and contemplates suicide by the New York City subway train. His wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener), left him years ago for another man who backed out of the affair. His daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), doesn't seem to want any sort of relationship with him, tolerating the times when he picks her up from school and joking about buying condoms in a disengaged way that implies she doesn't truly care what she says around him. For Dan, though, all he has is the search for the next big artist (most apparent in an amusing montage during which he listens to throwaway nonsense and throws all of it out of his car window) and his connections to the ones he's already established (including one played briefly by R&B artist Cee Lo Green).

There is Greta (Keira Knightley in a lovely performance that showcases a surprising singing voice for the actress), who writes music when it suits her and is visiting New York City for reasons that, initially, are kept under wraps. We eventually learn--through a pair of flashbacks, one of which is inside the other--that she is the ex-girlfriend of Dave Kohl (Adam Levine in a wearied performance obviously borne of the Maroon 5 frontman's years in the music business), an ultra-famous pop star. The relationship, which makes up arguably the strongest segments in the film, eventually ends for reasons it would be criminal to divulge. Greta meets Dan after the fallout, performing a song that, in an amusing coincidence, mirrors his exact situation. The two strike up a friendship and mutual record deal: record an album entirely on the streets of NYC, to capture the city's sounds and atmosphere.

The ensuing series of montages, chronicling their many recording sessions, isn't anything that hasn't been done before, but it exists for itself, neverthless--not a montage showing some rise of fame, but a collection of well-performed, original songs that showcase a love for music shared by writer/director John Carney. The real heart to "Begin Again" is these people's connection to music, such as the soundtrack's best number, an affecting ballad shared by both Knightley and Levine in very different places for their characters. The song itself is something to be discovered, but its point is clear: These are all lost stars, and music is the only way they know how to get by.

Film Information

Keira Knightley (Greta), Mark Ruffalo (Dan), Hailee Steinfeld (Violet), Adam Levine (Dave), James Corden (Steve), Catherine Keener (Miriam), Yasiin Bey (Saul), Cee Lo Green (Troublegum).

Directed and written by John Carney.

Rated R (language).

104 minutes.

Released in select cities on June 27, 2014.