Songs Of Solo Man (And Solo Woman!): Begin Again

06/18/2014 4:00 AM |

Begin Again
Directed by John Carney
Opens June 27

Begin Again begins at least three times. Just-jilted Gretta is pulled onstage by a well-meaning sidekick to strum out her pain at open-mic night in a Manhattan bar. As the movie backtracks, we learn that, like Llewyn Davis, she’s had a day of disillusionment. (Nobody in the movies now performs live out of joy.) So has record exec Dan, the one attentive member of her audience. He’s broke, drunk, and apparently suicidal (or, in one of the movie’s many gestures toward authenticity, deathly frustrated by the MTA). Dan’s gift is seeing that Gretta has a gift. In a transcendent sequence, he imagines the instruments onstage playing themselves, orchestrating an accompaniment for Gretta that turns a pretty plaint into a chartbuster. And so: motif established, scene set for a musical romance.

But John Carney, who directed Once, likes his romance unconsummated; like the leads in the Dublin film, his New York pair are not entirely untangled from a marriage to Catherine Keener (for him) and a relationship besmirched by Adam Levine’s infidelity and weird beard (for her). Dan offers to help Gretta make a demo, recording each song in a different outdoor locale, and when they end up wandering one night, listening to the same music via two pairs of headphones and one splitter, more important than their attraction is the possibility of attraction, of being alone together in a city of the solitary, and in a time when so many tinny electronic voices are vying for our love.

Gretta is meant to be a Gerwig kind of gal, but hopelessly elegant Keira Knightley gamely takes up the guitar and Diane Keaton wardrobe; Mark Ruffalo of course is likable as all hell. But there are rules of romcom, and this one too comes with chubby happy friends and Violet the estranged teenage daughter, played by the excellent Hailee Steinfeld, doing more for her role than it deserves. The movie’s one truly false note is doggedly independent/indie Gretta suggesting that Violet cover up a little. I thought this was sexy, Violet says. It’s very sexy, Gretta says disapprovingly. But sex apparently isn’t for little girls to contemplate. In the final closeup of her beatific face, Gretta on her bicycle must be envisioning a solo career.