Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

Begin Again (R)

Directed by: John Carney
Starring: Keira Knightley
July 2014

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

Begin Again

Vision, not gimmicks. The opposite of most entertainment these days.
Especially big budget blockbusters.

The imaginary arrangement that’s constructed around Knightley’s acoustic song is brilliant.
I envy people with such musical mutant powers.

The new song garners a slap from the mind reader.
Never underestimate the power of women’s intuition.

Record every song at a different location. A unique concept.
And a logistical nightmare. Probably the reason why no one’s ever done it before.

“Hold on” section with the kids is a nice moment.
Well worth the $5 per kid for their services.

Listening to Knightley’s playlist via a special splitter. Recreating a magical moment.
This musical montage is the highlight of the film. The sequence is the audio/visual equivalent of a warm embrace.

The kazoo solo is hilarious.
I used to play one as a kid, but I’m out of practice. I need to get my chops up.

A buck for a book is a risky proposition. An amusing coda.
I love it when we get additional story during the end credits and not just silly outtakes.

Final analysis: like
Once, this is a song-centric film with strong character beats and fine performances.
The songs Knightley’s character sings have a Norah Jones or Colbie Caillat quality to them and should prove listenable, and perhaps even enjoyable, for most viewers.

Like the music it features, the film is a stripped-down drama that reminds us of what pure artistry really is.

3 out of 4. A charming turn by Knightley & a new career watermark for Ruffalo. Plus some catchy tunes.

From director John Carney, who brought us the similarly themed and structured Once (2007), comes Begin Again, a dramatic and romantic movie that can’t really be classified as either. Nor can it be called a musical, despite the fact that it has just as many full songs as most musicals. Genre quandaries aside, what’s readily apparent is the movie’s easy manner and affable characters (and the picturesque location footage shot in NYC doesn’t hurt either). Besides its toe-tapping melodies, the film’s greatest asset is its deftness at avoiding standard rom-com clichés. For starters, there really isn’t a romance in the film since Knightley breaks up with her singer boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine) and, thankfully, never hooks up with Ruffalo (eww!). The movie also does a good job of avoiding mawkish episodes: a scene near the end sets up the opportunity for an emotionally gratifying (and gratuitous) moment when Dave invites Knightley to the stage during a concert (the same exact scenario occurs when Hugh Grant coaxes Drew Barrymore to the stage in the 2007 film Music and Lyrics). Against our expectations, Knightley listens in the wing for a few minutes and then leaves. That’s just one example of how Carney (who serves as sole writer) diligently worked to keep his story free of contrivance. So then, no matter which genre Begin belongs to, file it in the feel-good music movie section, and those who stumble upon this indie winner will be completely satisfied.