Grade: B+

Directed by John Carney
Starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener

The movie Once was a somewhat underrated musical masterpiece, despite winning the Academy Award for Best Original Song ("Falling Slowly"). That moment, in and of itself, was a head-scratcher for many people who had never even heard of the small independent film with a big voice. That film's director, John Carney, is back with a new musical ode to life and love in Begin Again.

Set against the backdrop of New York City, Begin Again is a surprising achievement for multiple reasons, most notably Keira Knightley's singing voice. It's not every day that a movie star in a musical is a welcome surprise (looking at you Russell Crowe). Knightley stars as Gretta, the love-lorn Brit who moved to New York with her budding musical star boyfriend Dave Kohl (Adam Levine). After only a small amount of time exploring and enjoying the city, Dave dumps Gretta through a specially-written song. She slaps him in the face and the movie sees one of its deepest moments. After a night out with her only friend in the city, before her planned trip back to the UK, Gretta is brought onstage at a seedy bar where she performs a touching ballad to a less-than-interested crowd. Except for one guy. Mark Ruffalo lounges and stumbles around the bar as Dan, an alcoholic music producer known for bringing big acts to the forefront. Despite his notoriety, Dan is piss poor and a bad example of any type of adult we should ever become. Not to mention, Dan is a father whose relationship with his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) is anything but good. Even in his drunken stupor Dan sees the potential in Gretta and sets off to record a highly ambitious music project on the streets of New York.

The seemingly earthy way in which the producer and artist gallivant around the city fits nicely with the guerrilla style filming Carney brings to the table. It seems if, at any moment, cops are going to show up to break up the filming or a drunk homeless man is going to wander in and take the microphone into his own hands. Like in Once, Carney allows the setting to be part of the ensemble. This story couldn't and wouldn't happen anywhere other than New York, especially not like this.

The music is the highlight here. Beyond Knightley's subtly beautiful voice, Levine offers some great musical moments, too, naturally. The singer isn't a bad actor, either. The standout track is a tune called "Lost Stars." Gretta writes the song to describe her relationship with Dave. When she sings it, it is personal and emotional. Dave take the song and makes it a pop hit. The high and low in the music is the driving force behind each and every human connection we see.

The film was originally titled Can a Song Save a Life?, a fitting title when you finish the movie thinking the same thing.

Rating: R
Runtime: 104 minutes

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