17-23 October 2014 #728

Begin Again

A charming concoction of romantic comedy without the usual doses of sugary sweetness.
Sophia Pande

John Carney’s second feature Begin Again is a charming concoction that blends in elements of romantic comedy and musical, but without the usual doses of sugary sweetness that can be found in most sub-par films of these genres. Carney’s first film Once (2007) was about a singer-songwriter couple and their tribulations. The plot of Begin Again does not stray far from that widely adored film.

Personally, while I did enjoy Once, I found Begin Again to be far more superior, perhaps because, as is with the most watchable of romantic comedies, Begin Again blends in the perfect mixture of wit and humour, in line with the best of the late great Nora Ephron’s screenplays.

Ephron understood, as does Carney (a writer and director), that contrary to popular belief, romantic comedies cannot rely just on the leads. Without the comedic support of a stellar ensemble cast, these fluffy scripts would collapse because in the end what could be more banal than “boy meets girl, boy gets girl” without a few hilarious shenanigans in between?

Begin Again is supported by a cast that represents the best of independent cinema. While Keira Knightley (as Gretta) and Adam Levine (who plays Dave and is also the lead singer of that horrible band Maroon 5) are not your usual indie stalwarts, the musical (but broken) couple they play are surrounded by the likes of Mark Ruffalo as Dan Mulligan, a music producer who is hitting the bottle hard and has seen better days; Catherine Keener as Miriam, Dan’s wife; the young but talented Hailee Steinfeld as Violet, Dan’s teenage daughter; the musician CeeLo Green plays Troublegum, a rapper made famous by Dan in his better days; Mos Def is Saul, Dan’s fickle but also long-suffering producing partner; and the often under-appreciated James Corden plays Steve, the tubby, hilarious, musically gifted, long time loyal friend of Gretta.

The screenplay is not particularly original. Gretta and Dave have moved to New York from England to record Dave’s first album on which Gretta is a songwriter. The fame goes to Dave’s head and he does something awful (you can guess what it is, considering the louche industry against which this film is set) and Gretta moves out, heartbroken.

The story really starts when Steve drags Gretta out to an open mike event in an East Village bar where Dan happens to be drowning his sorrows. Dan convinces Gretta to record an album using the ambience of New York as a background, and so begins a particularly delightful story of love lost and gained, and more importantly of friendships forged.

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