Begin Again: A Review

begin againI finally got a chance to see Begin Again tonight, the musical dramedy written and directed by John Carney creator of indy smash Once.  With  the current dearth of romantic comedies I was looking forward to this movie and while it is not terrible I was disappointed.



Keira Knightley as Gretta James, a songwriter

Mark Ruffalo as Dan Mulligan, a music producer

Adam Levine as Dave Kohl, Gretta’s ex-boyfriend and a successful musician

Catherine Keener as Miriam Hart, Dan’s estranged wife

Hailee Steinfeld as Violet Mulligan, Dan and Miriam’s daughter

James Corden as Steve, Gretta’s best friend

CeeLo Green as Troublegum, a successful rapper who was discovered by Dan

Mos Def as Saul, Dan’s long-time business partner


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Spoiler Alert! I will discuss some details of the movie.

Begin Again has a lot in common with Once.  Both movies are about new artists, one male, one female, that are idealistic and pure believers in music and them creating their first album.

But there are some big key differences.


First, I’m sorry but the songs in Once are just better.  I did not believe any of the songs in Begin Again were legitimate hits where Once had several including the actual hit Falling Softly (and Oscar winner for Best Original Song) .

The songs in Once were so good they could be used to make a Tony winning broadway musical.  You couldn’t do that with the Begin Again songs, and since the whole point of the movie is that Kiera Knightly’s songs are somehow so brilliant it doesn’t feel genuine.


Second, the singing isn’t as good.  Mark Ruffalo doesn’t actually sing like Glen Hansard does in Once and Kiera Knightly is not nearly as good a singer as Marketa Irglova.  All of the songs are written with a small range and she still doesn’t sound very good.  Certainly nothing that would make a record executive stop in a drunken stupor and drop all and work with this ‘amazing’ talent.

In Once the performances are grounded in a type of reality, playing in music stores, homes etc

Third, in Once the ‘Guy’ and ‘Girl’ are so likable despite not having names.  In both movies they are in love with music and not really each other but it comes off so much more of a real and meaningful relationship in Once.

Part of the problem is that Ruffalo is such a mess that I didn’t like him or find him charming.  In fact, there was a side of me that was nervous for Knightley’s character that he might take advantage of her (borderline creepy persona).  Knightly was bland, niave and kind of preachy about people who actually want to make a career out of music (the shame!). I found her to be a little insufferable.


In Once ‘Girl’ has a child which gives her warmth and keeps you rooting for her.  In Begin Again Ruffalo is estranged from his daughter played quite well by Hailee Steinfeld.  When we first meet him he picks his daughter up clearly inebriated.    This makes me instantly dislike him, where in Once I love the characters who are trying so hard for the chance to record.  Ruffalo is an executive who has blown his chance and is fired.  It’s not as motivating a character arc and we don’t see as much growth.

begin again subway

Fourth, in Once they are shown practicing so they are ready for the big recording session.  They practice outside, in apartments, piano stores etc.  In Begin Again the conceit is that they are going to screw the traditional recording studio and record an album in New York live.

It is an absolutely laughable idea that a releasable album could be filmed in and around the city of New York in one or two takes and with all back up willing to work for free! We officially cross the line into a fairytale with scenes of recording in the Subway and officers ‘catching’ them mid song and them running away.  You can actually get permits to play in the New York Subway but the idea that a band of that size could get all the amps and everything set up and then record a track and then the cops come? Give me a break!

Maybe it isn’t fair to compare it to its younger, fairer cousin but when you have the same director, writer and a nearly identical premise it’s tough not too.  Begin Again is just not as good.  It feels like a lame sequel where they just kind of spew out a weaker version of the original. It’s not offensively awful and people are trying but why settle for sloppy seconds when you can easily enjoy the real deal first course?

The only part that surprised me about Begin Again is Adam Levine as Knightley’s rock star boyfriend isn’t half bad.  In the world of musicians turned actors he is pretty engaging on screen. Granted he is playing a rock star which isn’t much a stretch but certainly other stars haven’t been able to pull off similar feats as well. He has the one good song at the end of the movie (big surprise there!).

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I just wanted a feel good romance and so was hoping at least the characters would be engaging but I didn’t get into it.  The premise was too silly, characters patronizing or unlikable and the songs (a big part of the movie) weren’t very good.  Overall let down…

There is a lot of swearing in the movie but not much else that is offensive.  Not quite as much swearing as in Once (although much of that was in Irish accent which was hard to understand). But I would say Begin Again is adult only because of language.

Clean Content Score- D, Overall Grade- C, not terrible but extremely average.

7 thoughts on “Begin Again: A Review

  1. Hey! Sorry to hear you weren’t as big of a fan as I was. I felt like Begin Again just worked well today as a modern film with its focus on music. I don’t think John Carney meant to make a replica to Once, but just create an entirely different story. For me, I could totally see how Kiera Knightly’s character’s music style was so different from all of the “music” that has become popular today, and I think that was the point: two musicians wanted to create something unique and refreshing that didn’t deal with selling your soul to the pop music industry, the fans who buy into it, and the crappy production that a lot of popular music has become (think Justin Bieber, Jonas Brothers, etc.). At least, that’s what I got out of it! I’m sure if I had previously seen Once, I may have felt different too. It’s definitely interesting to read another perspective on the film. Good write-up! 😀

    1. Thanks tons. I agree. Always good to hear a different point of view. It was just too far fetched to me the idea of the recording around the city. The characters in Once are so likable and I just found especially Mark Ruffalo to be hard to warm up to, felt I had nobody to root for.

      It is very similar to Once in story (I think even Carney would admit that) but not a terrible movie. I liked Adam Levine. He was good. And the rest I liked just not loved.

      1. I can definitely see where you’re coming from there. I thought the idea was rather brilliant, but I guess I kind of got the impression that they had to had multiple takes, but showed only one or two takes per song in the film with just that “understanding,” if ya know what I mean?

        Mark Ruffalo played a really weird character. I was much more captivated and interested in Kiera Knightly’s character, and I adored James Corden in the movie. I also thought Adam Levine was quite good too.

        I actually cracked up at how Ruffalo convinced the other musicians to join up – musical prodigies, a bored ballet accompanist, and a paid-off drummer and bassist – that felt like it could work if you were well-connected enough in the music biz. I don’t think the average person would have it that easy though!

      2. Corden was fun. I agree with that. He’s really good in Into the Woods also. Would have liked to have seen him in the movie even more.

        Oh well. I guess it is just hard when something so similar comes out to something you love. I’m yearning for a good rom com and the universe is against me.

        It is a very lovingly made movie and I always appreciate that.

    2. My problem with the Knightley character is she hates the system a little bit too much. There is a difference between selling out and allowing the record company to promote your songs. If her definition were to rule all artists evidently Florence and the Machine, Ingrid Michaelson, Regina Spektor are all sell outs. It just was a little over the top and came off kind of snotty to me. There’s a middle ground of artistic integrity and a complete packaged product. This movie would have you believe Adam Levine is a terrible person for playing songs that people like. That’s silly. There’s a balance.

      Anyway I just found her kind of preachy and insufferable and the whole conceit of recording the album in the city to be too far fetched. Sure live albums are done but that is with carefully placed sound equipment and with strong engineering over multiple nights at a concert without subway cars, ambulance sirens or any other ambient noise. It would be awful to listen to with all that noise.

      Once was way more grounded in reality with them practicing around the city and the chance to record in studio being the big break.

      It’s tough when a movie comes out that is so easy to compare another too. It might not be fair but Carney was asking for it by making them so similar.

      But I sound like I hated which I didnt just had issues

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