“Begin Again” beautifully captures the heart, soul and joy of music (Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine)

If you’re a music lover, writer, player, listener, savior or even appreciator, Begin Again will surely hit a chord in you. And it will stick.

Photo courtesy of BEGIN AGAIN, the Weinstein Company and Exclusive Media.

Photo courtesy of BEGIN AGAIN, the Weinstein Company and Exclusive Media.

Forged on the New York singer-songwriter scene, “Begin Again” is a story about lost souls who find safety woven in the music created from their real life.

Gretta (Keira Knightley) is a talented songwriter, who is not in any way, shape or form a performer. Her boyfriend and songwriting partner Dave (Adam Levine), whom she has lived with for five years, explodes with success and cheats on her. This leaves a love-stricken Gretta who, with writer-director John Carney’s (“Once”) beautiful opening sequence, plays at an open mic one fateful night. With awkward hesitancy and a fragile voice, her performance only gains the applause of her British, pal Steve (James Corden) and a drunken record producer named Dan (Mark Ruffalo).

As Dan loses his wife, daughter and now job, he grows tired of the uninteresting, trite records he receives daily. But, like a godsend, he hears (and sees) magic with Gretta’s soul-stirring performance.

“I’m not a performer, I just write songs from time to time,” Gretta tells Dan.

Yet, Dan is headstrong with creating a record with the reluctant and skeptical Gretta. Having both lost their love and work, Gretta agrees to go on to make a record with Dan the real way — in the streets of New York.

Enlisting the help of a friend, random passersby and Dan’s former hip-hop discovery of a star (Cee Lo Green), they go on to record in streets, alleyways and rooftops, capturing the raw ambient sounds of New York while utilizing their surroundings (and interferences) to create charming and harmonious arrangements.

The film almost serves as a love letter to music as it does to the musicians who create up the music.

Photo courtesy of BEGIN AGAIN.

Dan and Greta. | Photo courtesy of BEGIN AGAIN.

We see Gretta, writing songs based on her relationship with Dave, creating songs worthy of being a gift to him; and, in one impassioned moment, we hilariously witness a rather drunken Gretta record an angry voice message turned song with her pal Steve to Dave’s voicemail. The moment is pure gold.

As Gretta and Dan’s relationship/partnership progresses, Gretta’s presence perhaps helps mend his family’s faith in his work as she, with her politeness, gives clothing advice to his daughter Violet while urging her to play in her record. Simultaneously, Dan works wonders with Gretta’s small-voice and strives to make a star-vehicle out of her, in which she simply disregards.

In several restrained moments of intimacy and gazes, Carney pushes the envelope of creating a romance between the two. But, their relationship turns out to be nothing more than a partnership and friendship — something in which their purely platonic intimacy is sweetly felt as they, at one moment, roam the streets of New York together, listening to music while being lost in the playlists of their own lives.

Subtle and celebratory, this film beautifully captures the essence of what it is like to be a musician today. As Knightley sings the songs performed in the movie—and well, I might add—Levine’s mastery and effortlessness as frontman for Maroon 5 doesn’t hold his character’s humility back. He performs with an air of subtlety and honesty just as Knightley is able to let her good-heart and sincerity shine through all her quirks and beauty, leaving us feeling like she is the genuine songwriter her character is. Lastly, Ruffalo warmly pieces the narrative together as the frantic age-old record producer, who shows us why he is the person he is and why he deserves to be the once-successful record producer he was in the past.

This film has quickly become one of my favorites and, as a fan of Carney’s “Once,” I find that there is something just so infectious about this film.

With a soundtrack headed by the direction of late 90s alt-rock band, New Radicals’ frontman Gregg Alexander, the movie beams with all of its feel-good, heart-on-sleeve kind of sentiments that make it special. Whether it be the star-studded cast or feel-good tunes, it is quite rare to find a film that can take you through the wonderful journey it is to simply feel and love music — without having a care for anything monetary — and to simply have fun with it.

And, with the hit Oscar-worthy song “Lost Stars” being transformed throughout the narrative — as over the progression of Gretta and Dan’s own relationship — there is nothing quite else that can genuinely capture the heart, soul and joy of music. But John Carney’s “Begin Again” does just that. And it makes you feel oh, so good for the summer.

Check out my review of the soundtrack for this film here.

This article was featured in The New University.


31 responses to ““Begin Again” beautifully captures the heart, soul and joy of music (Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine)

  1. Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightly, a movie about song-writing with excellent music to boot…this definitely has my attention! Thank you for sharing this, I hadn’t even heard about this movie before now 🙂

    • Definitely! I feel like I should be getting paid for promoting this movie everywhere… Everyone’s been telling me they’re wanting to watch it now after all my 5 gazillion social media posts about the movie. Ha. Let me know if you ever watch it and your thoughts!

  2. The movie made me reinforce my love for music and how it’s a common thread to everything I’ve experienced in life.

    I’m listening to the soundtrack constantly since I got it, and I’m itching to watch Begin Again Once again 😉

    • Hah! I am definitely feeling the same feeling. It made me look back into my purest love for music–why it’s something that always stuck with me. For the music–not for gain or approval or recognition. For the music, which ultimately brings a peace of mind that is woven into your everyday life, as if it’s become a part of your life.

      It actually just opened at Irvine’s UTC theater (surprisingly) so I may see it again (but I just dislike how expensive that theater can get!). Such a beautiful film, yet so simple a concept. But, it’s got the heart, which makes all the difference.

      • It has a lot of heart yes. John Carney is really good at avoiding making his movies too sentimental for it’s own good.

        I’m currently stuck listening to “A Step You Can’t Take Back” right now. The more I listen to it, the more I see why Mark Ruffalo’s character had his revelation when he heard it.

        Apparently Gregg Alexander was the head writer for a lot of the songs in the movie. It’s kinda shocking to me since he was the front man for this alternative rock 90s band called New Radicals that had this one hit wonder… http://youtu.be/DL7-CKirWZE

      • OH MY GOSH. NO. I LOVE THE NEW RADICALS! Their song “Mother, You Just Can’t Get Enough” was my anthem for YEARS. The song was featured in “A Walk to Remember” (of course, a diehard fan of that movie). That’s wonderful to hear, though. I don’t have many of the New Radicals’ songs, though the ones I have, they rock. I can kind of see where the spirit through the songwriting of the songs in this film came from then. They are traditionally feel-good tunes, which I can definitely feel from his work in New Radicals. Ah, thank you for that news. That just made my day and reminded me of those rocking’ songs.

        I can’t get enough of Keira’s songs, though. Especially “Coming Up Roses” and “Like A Fool.” So infectious. And perhaps it’s because I relate to her character the most, in some way.

  3. It would be awesome if Keira and Adam and Gregg decided to tour with these songs. Some place like The Hotel Cafe would be perfect for this 🙂

    • I second that! (but barely think that’d be possible. especially with Keira and Adam’s star statuses and Keira’s disinterest in really performing altogether, lol)

      • Not sure if you already looked it up, but the band Cessyl Orchestra that’s in the album is Gregg Alexander’s. I suppose he can perform the majority of the Begin Again songs himself if he wanted to, since he did write them.

      • Hahaha yeah. When I was listening to the songs, it sounded very much like him so I only assumed. Visiting the album, I can hear a lot of New Radicals-influence. Gives it that feel-good spirit. It’s so great.

  4. Hi, great review of Begin Again! Thanks. Would you know the name and artist of the song that in the movie at the party they are DARED NOT TO DANCE? But of course, end of dancing. Thanks very much. Bill

    • Hi Bill! Thank you so much for checking out my review. I did a little digging for songs used in the movie, and, since it has been a couple weeks since I’ve seen the movie, I can’t entirely remember the song. But, I did find these songs that may have been the one…

      Check them out and let me know if one of these was it!

      “Thinking About Your Love” by Skipworth & Turner —> thinking it may have been this
      “Comeback Girl” by Republic of Loose —> another possibility
      “For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder —> I think this may have been used during Gretta & Dan’s NY stroll?

      Thanks for reading! Hope this helps. Let me know if they sound familiar.

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  6. Hello hello. I really love what you’ve got here on your blog and yes i’m completely in love with the soundtrack too! hope everything goes smoothly for you and that you may stay true to the soul of music and what you believe in. rock on!

    daryl (inmetrospection.wordpress.com)

    • Thank you for the love. I really appreciate your kind words. I do know I will only continue to do what moves my soul, and I hope you do the same! Keep in touch.

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  8. I feel like the movie misled us at moments, particularly with the Gretta and Dan relationship. Sure, it does seem a little more clean and probably rightful that Dan was able to fix up his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, but I think a kiss, maybe even a goodbye kiss between the two musical partners might have led to a greater resolution towards the end, to confirm the feelings between the two of them after all the romantic glares and cute date-like activities that made me believe that there was SOMETHING.

    For a moment, when Gretta left Adam Levine’s concert, I felt as if she was making a decision between two people she loved, between Dan and Adam.

    Perhaps the Gretta and Dan romanticism unintended? I don’t know but it leaves a hole in my heart, if it were intended in the first place, that it wasn’t consummated in some way.

    Nevertheless, I found the ending very acceptable and bordering good, but it still lacked a full sense of resolution in my opinion.

    • Hmmm, that’s interesting. I could definitely see that they were playing on that romance for a long time throughout the movie, but if I were them, I could see how inappropriate it was. And I think that’s what happens to a lot of people. They have those moments, and they realize how inappropriate it is and they shouldn’t go after it. They’re better as partners than a couple, and I appreciated that. I cringed a lot when I would see them together, crossing my fingers they didn’t go any further!

      The ending, from my point of view, is kind of what I feel would happen in real life. It’s the safe choice, yes, but sometimes the safe and sound reason is better than the wild and dramatic–and this movie seemed to go along that natural human desire in this society to be “right.”

      But I agree, it would have been interesting and more “okay I knew you were gonna happen” if their relationship went through. I wouldn’t have been surprised, but was kind of glad they went the route they did in the end!

  9. I heard Keira Knightley say in an interview she has no plans to sing again as she did in Begin Again, too bad I thought she was great

  10. I just watched the movie and keep thinking about the ending, is Gretta starting again with Dave or not? She left the concert because she chose to leave Dave or just because she decided to not go with the label?
    I tried to find some clue in the movie but I still couldn’t get it

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