Begin Again is writer/director John Carney's latest. In 2006, he blew us away with Once and the phenomenal music and the irresistible charm of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova.
This too focuses on music and the music industry. However, it fails to rise to the high level of Once, and those anticipating music that matches Hansard and Irglova's will find Begin Again underwhelming.
On the other hand, while the acting in Once was good but nothing special, the performances of Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley are nothing less than overwhelming.
Ruffalo is Dan, a former high-profile music producer who has fallen on hard times. Separated from his wife and estranged from his teenage daughter, Dan has been booted from the company he founded and is close to living on the streets. In an alcoholic daze, he stumbles into a bar where he hears Keira Knightley's Gretta singing.
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She's been dumped by her now superstar boyfriend (Maroon 5's Adam Levine) and isn't sure what to do with life. Gretta is actually a more talented songwriter and singer than the former boyfriend, and Dan spots that immediately.
All this leads to a fascinating friendship, and decent music done in a unique way. It's free-flowing storytelling, and that's Carney's strength. There is a natural, easy, street-savvy sense to his movies, and this is no exception.
Knightly -- it turns out -- is also a pretty good singer, and as always gives a good performance. Levine is the movie's big draw. Though he's only in it for a few scenes, Levine isn't bad. Neither is Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) as the estranged daughter or the always understated and exceptional Catherine Keener.
The real star of Begin Again is Ruffalo. He's a three-dimensional actor who most will recognize from doing Bruce Banner and the Hulk in The Avengers. Mostly stuck in so-so flicks like The Avengers, once in a while Ruffalo gets a great part that allows him to show off. Two films that come to mind are The Kids are All Right and You Can Count on Me.
This is one of those great part movies and to-date, Ruffalo's work is the best male performance of the year. He's incredibly good. And while Begin Again can't be defined as incredible, it is a warm, fuzzy feel-good movie that ought not be missed.
Director: John Carney
Stars: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, Mos Def
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated R for mature themes and language. It's playing at the Carmike 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.
-- Too many warm fuzzy from Mr. Movie these days? Let him know at www.tricityherald.com/arts/mrmovie.