REVIEW: Begin Again

2 07 2014

Begin AgainJohn Carney’s “Begin Again” was first screened for audiences under the title “Can A Song Save Your Life?”  An interesting question, to be sure, but perhaps not the right one … or at least not the one preoccupying most viewers.  Their biggest question is (or ought to be), can these songs save this movie?

The answer is, well, not exactly.  “Begin Again” flaunts some pleasant ditties, including a few from Maroon 5’s Adam Levine (great for boosting soundtrack sales) and several from the surprisingly smooth pipes of Keira Kinghtley.  But they are rather breezy and generic tunes, not quite the game-changing classics Carney and his film make them out to be.

While I’m not a music critic (and do not intend to masquerade as one), I do feel that I can comment on how the tracks are incorporated into the film with relative authority.  And in “Begin Again,” the songs play out rather like music videos, with the one exception of Knightley’s strikingly beautiful opening number about isolation in the Big Apple.  Furthermore, they never reveal anything about the characters participating in their creation (see the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis” for a masterclass).

These songs reflect the larger issue with “Begin Again,” which is that it provides a surface-level treatment of just about everything it touches.  Carney occasionally proffers a profound musing on music, both its art and its commerce, but never really explores them fully.

Begin Again still

The characters all comes across as rather flat because Carney never delves into much of their psychology.  This particularly applies to Mark Ruffalo’s Dan, a record company exec whose personal issues cause him trouble when they spill over into his work.  Ruffalo plays the character as excessively manic, so much so that it threatened to make me a little queasy.  (If he doesn’t want to make a Hulk movie, this is a great audition tape for a role as one of Woody Allen’s surrogates.)

Knightley gets somewhat more to work with as Greta, a songwriter whose pop star boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) cheats on her and leaves her on her own in New York.  She forms an interesting bond with Dan when he hears her sing, although the film is far more focused on flashbacks of their backstories than their burgeoning professional relationship.  It took “Begin Again” 50 minutes, by my count, to move the narrative beyond the opening scene.

Once it moves on, Carney offers plenty of pleasantries and fun moments.  He does end on an unexpected high note – by which I mean in the story, not necessarily the closing Adam Levine number.  But I couldn’t escape the feeling that “Begin Again” had plenty more of those it could have easily hit along the way.  For whatever reason, Carney seems to be holding the film back rather than letting it wade into more daring territory.  C+2stars


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