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Begin Again: No Lost Stars Here
Hollywood, more often than not, panders to the desires of the masses. Explosions, car chases, graphic sex scenes dominate in most blockbusters. Story suffers and is forgotten for cheap, in the moment excitement: Alfred Hitchcock’s advice on suspense is forgotten. However, every so often a movie comes along that reestablishes my faith in Hollywood. Begin Again is one of those films.
Let’s set the scene. Gretta (Keira Knightly) is a long way from home, recently moving from London to New York with her boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine). Dave is an up and coming rock star on the brink of widespread success. Unfortunately, he lets the fame get to his head and ends up leaving Gretta for another woman. Alone and heartbroken in New York, Gretta gets in touch and moves in with her friend, Steve (James Corden) from home who currently resides in New York. After a few days, he drags her out to an open mic nightclub.
Switching from Gretta to Dan (Mark Ruffalo), we find Dan down on his luck. Dan has been fired by his partner, Saul (Mos Def) from the record label Dan founded. If that is not enough, this occurs right in front of his daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) who already cannot stand him for walking out on his mother. (Which you find out later, two sides exist to every story.) After a rough and troublesome day, Dan decides to go to an open mic night club. See what I did there?
This is where our story truly begins. Gretta is also a musician, but she plays and writes for the love of music, not for fame. Steve forces her on stage to perform an original song. While no one else in the room appreciates it, Dan, possessing the talent for discovering talent, sees all the potential in her. Long story short, they agree to make music together without the use of a studio. With no ties to anyone else, they are free to make the music they have always dreamed of creating. They form a band, Dan produces and they record in locations all over New York City.
The story is simple, but executed in such a perfectly beautiful way. In a world full of suspenseful, conspiratorial, guns-a-blazing films, something so simple feels new. However, I do not want people to think simple means easy. Simple all by itself can be forgettable; it is the uniquely simple that makes this story so exceptional. When Dan first sees Gretta perform on stage we see into his mind. When I said he “sees all the potential in her,” I meant that quite literally. Gretta plays the guitar and sings, but the instruments behind her start to play. The cymbals tap, the ivories are tickled, a bass is stroked, but all are unmanned; it is his imagination, his hope for what could be. That small, simple addition could have easily been left out. It is its inclusion that is just one example of what makes this film so unique.
The relationship story lines, however, are not all that unique. This does not make them any less important, though. In fact, the three major relationships I find to be quite relatable. Although it seems as though the movie wants to make Gretta’s boyfriend out to be the bad guy, I am not convinced that he is so terrible. The decision he made in the beginning was terrible, but everyone loses their way at some point or another, and we must be able to count on those around us, who care for us, to help us find our way back. This same statement can also be related to Dan’s situation with his wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener). I do not wish to say any more about that, for fear of spoilers. Dan and Violet also must find their way back to each other. Dan left Violet at a rocky time in a girl’s life. The teen years are tough, and he did not make them any easier for her. As a result, she was left with little guidance and that generally leads to trouble. When we first see her, she is dressed, or should I say barely dressed, in clothes that lead us to believe she is not daddy’s little girl anymore. It is not until Gretta’s influence on her and Dan’s renewed involvement that we see the talented, intelligent girl that had been forgotten.
Before I forget, I must give a shout out to James Corden who plays Steve. His part may be supporting, but as the age old saying goes, there are no small parts, only small actors. He must have taken this to heart, because every time he is on screen, the charm is overflowing. I found myself laughing out loud a few times at his quirky sense of humor. Another person who should be praised is Adam Levine. For a novice actor, I was quite impressed. Once again, his role is small, but he makes a deep impression on each scene. Overall, I found the acting to be witty and charming.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect. In all of Begin Again’s glory, I found it did not reach its full potential at times. One adorable scene involves Dan and Gretta walking around New York City together at night, listening to music through a splitter. This came as a result of Dan’s desire to hear what was in Gretta’s playlists. She protests, saying that she has some really embarrassing stuff on there. However, the music that they play is Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder. In my opinion, that is fantastic music. That scene had some great comedic potential: boy bands, heavy metal head bangers, the Bee Gees… That is indeed a lost opportunity. The other issue I have has to do with the ending, thus I will not go into detail. All I will say is that the pivotal point in which Gretta must make her big decision is not entirely clear. The entire end of the film counts on this decision, and it is not completely clear as to why she makes the decision she does. My final issue is that one of the main points seems to be that the desire for fame and widespread success is something that makes you insincere or petty. I do not wholly agree with that. Dave wants his music to be heard by the masses, and when it is, people love it. I find nothing to be wrong with that, but Gretta seems to believe that he has become a sellout, a life not acceptable for real musicians. That just seems ridiculous. Other than those three small qualms, Begin Again is a solid film.
I feel as though Begin Again is the movie I’ve been waiting for all my life. The story is honest and true to life. Whether you are passionate about music or not, you should see the film purely for its celebration of creative thinking and reminder of why New York is one of the greatest cities on Earth. Today it seems rare to see a film with such nuance and charm. Begin Again is beautiful, joyous and well worth the trip to the theater. It will not easily become a “lost star.”
Limited Release Date: June 29, 2014
Wide Release Date: July 20, 2014
Run Time 1:44
Begin Again has scenes during the credits which are definitely worth the stay.
You can learn about post credit scenes from the app "Anything After".
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- Begin Again (2014) - Fandango
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Begin Again IMDB
- Begin Again (2013) - IMDb
Directed by John Carney. With Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Hailee Steinfeld. A chance encounter between a disgraced music-business executive and a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan turns into a promising collaboration between th