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Begin Again

Originally released on the festival circuit in 2013, Begin Again has made its way to theaters in the summer of 2014. During what has been a bit of a lull in the Summer movie season, this movie was a refreshing feel-good movie with a lot of fun moments and a really good soundtrack.

The story of Begin Again is fairly simple. Dan (Mark Rufallo) is a record exec with a broken family/personal life who’s just been fired by the company that he helped found. As he’s drinking his sorrows away, he overhears a song being played in a bar. The song is being performed by Gretta (Keira Knightley), who was pushed to perform the song by her friend Steve (James Corden). Gretta is fresh off of a break up with her boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine). Gretta followed Dave to America after his music career took off. As Dave adjusted to the trappings of fame he grew more distant and eventually cheated on Gretta, leaving her living with Steve and preparing to go back home. When Dan hears her play, he’s able to imagine what her music could sound like and tries to sign her. After he tells her the truth and the two get to know each other, Gretta goes with Dan to his record label to pitch the idea of her doing a record. Dan’s old partner isn’t thrilled about the idea, but agrees to let her put together a demo. Instead of doing the Demo, Dan and Gretta decide to record an entire album by going to different locations in NYC and using the city as the backdrop to the album.

Despite being fairly thin in the story department, this movie is thoroughly enjoyable if you let yourself enjoy it for what it is. The movie is as much about music as it is anything else. Admittedly, this means that you may need to be partial to the indie/contemporary/soft-rock style of music that this movie specializes in to enjoy it. I have to admit that I did enjoy most of the music in this film, so I may be biased in that respect.  This is the first movie I’ve seen  in a long time that made me think, “I need to go get the soundtrack from this movie”. Even if you don’t enjoy the music, I think that it’s still possible to enjoy it if you  can appreciate the process of making music. Even though it looked a little clumsy, I think the scene where we see/hear Gretta’s first performance through Dan’s eyes was great and, in some ways, educational. Hearing the bare and uninspired rendition of Gretta’s song being transformed into a full-fledged record as Dan layered in support and effects in his mind is not only nice to hear but it’s a nice example of the kind of process of what goes into making music what it is.

Another thing that this movie seems to be lacking is any real emotional peaks and valleys. There are some points that are a little difficult but, generally speaking, the tone of the movie is fairly light. When we meet Dan and Gretta they’ve both already gone through the worst of their ordeals and, even though we go back and relive those moments, neither of them are given a lot of time on screen to really wallow in sadness over what’s gone wrong. Instead, most of their energy is spent helping each other to construct this record and rebuild there lives. Even in the couple of tense moments they have, there doesn’t seem to be a true sense of drama or tension, more the sense that they are competently navigating their situations. There’s not even a real sense of romantic tension between the two leads (which I was expecting going in to the movie). There is one scene that leads you to think that they might become romantically involved but that’s quickly quelled (and never addressed again) after Steve interrupts their alone time. While it does add to the sense of “thinness” in the film, this lack of drama is, in some ways, refreshing. Instead of worrying about some big dramatic situation the audience is able to just enjoy the collection of moments in these characters lives and experience the journey that they go on through their music.

The movie does a great job with the way that it uses the music as part of the narrative. It’s not quite the same as what you get in a musical, where dialogue or narration is happening in music. Instead, the music is just a part of the story. Being musicians, the characters share a lot of moments while listening to music or having it as a backdrop to their lives. Some of the best, and most poignant, moments in the movie happen when characters are playing or listening to music. Gretta figures out that Dave is cheating on her by listening to a song he wrote. She also figures out that she’s moved on from her relationship with him while listening to him perform a song that she wrote for him. Dan and his daughter connect by playing together on one of the tracks that they’re recording for the album. My personal favorite is an early scene where Dan is listening to a sampling of demo records and lamenting the state of music as he quickly skips from one generic genre standard to another.

Aside from the music, Dan (Rufallo) is the highlight of the movie for me. While his performance as a scraggly drunk is good, it’s the joy and love of music that he portrays through his character that feels like it drives the whole movie. Gretta is a close second just because she’s such a great, well adjusted character. She handles her break-up with a surprising maturity and also does a lot to help Dan out with his personal life. Most notably, giving him some much needed help with his daughter. Even in situations where she’s under duress, Gretta manages to maintain some level of objectivity and composure. The chemistry between the two is pretty good, but I think I enjoy the way that they interact with pretty much every other character on the screen as well. Even though I’m singling these two out, I don’t think that there’s anyone in the movie that brings it down. Honestly, that’s kind of a surprise considering that Adam Levine, who is not an actor by trade, plays a pretty big part in the movie.

Begin Again is a movie that has a lot of fun and feel good moments. The story is simple and the writing isn’t going to provide you with a lot of profound or memorable lines. What the movie will leave you with is some moments that you’d wish you could live in (especially if you’re a musician) and an overall positive feeling. It’s a film that doesn’t try to do anything terribly complicated and focuses on telling a story centered around moments and music.

Rating B+

Begin Again

Begin Again
8.2

Plot / Story

7/10

    Characters

    9/10

      Visuals

      7/10

        Music / Audio

        10/10

          Entertainment

          9/10

            Pros

            • Great Soundtrack
            • A charming look at New York City
            • A feel-good story

            Cons

            • Some strange lighting issues through out the beginning of the film
            • The retelling of the first day of the story borderlines on tedious
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