Dan used to be a maverick indie record producer and family man, but time and luck turned against him in both aspects of his life. Greta is an idealistic singer-songwriter whose musician boyfriend Dave goes astray when he gets entangled with the trappings of commercial fame.
Dan and Greta meet each other at the very depth of their depression. But this fortuitous meeting would bring about a chain of events which may lead to a mutual reversal of fortunes for these two free-spirited individuals. Will these lost stars align once again with their collaboration?
The story really brings to mind Irish writer-director John Carney's breakthrough 2006 indie film, the delicately authentic "Once." That was also about musicians who led sad lives until they meet and click musically. The storytelling was propelled by the beautiful songs they sing. In "Begin Again" though, Carney's first Hollywood film, the setting is moved from suburban Ireland to New York City, and the cast is upgraded to A-list stars.
Mark Ruffalo perfectly captures the broken character of Dan with his gruff exterior and deep-set cynicism. However, he has this goofy charm that makes you actually root for him to dig himself out of his hole. He seems to have genuine chemistry with all his co-stars, a rare quality for an actor.
Keira Knightley started so well in her acting career, but lately her talent has not been given the right roles to shine. Greta is such an awesome character for Keira, who I am sure no one even thought could sing so well. Everything she sings here I liked and I would like to hear over and over -- beautiful songs all.
Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine plays the erring boyfriend Dave quite well considering this is his first major movie role. His singing was, of course, effortlessly good in very catchy songs like the centerpiece tune "Lost Stars," which is this film's answer to "Falling Slowly" from "Once," and certainly a contender for Oscar Best Song as well.
James Corden plays Greta's best friend in New York, Steve. He is a very nice guy, providing comic relief very subtly. Catherine Keener made the most of her little screen time as Dan's ex-wife Miriam. Hailee Steinfeld plays Dan's daughter Violet. She would have an emotional moment in one of the song recording sessions that is very memorable. Cee-Lo Green has a marked cameo as one of Dan's former successful talents.
Like "Once," "Begin Again" is a film that is simply so refreshing and delightful amidst all the big and noisy summer blockbusters. The story does not seem so original, that is true. However, the effective cast and the beautiful musical soundtrack both uplift the common story into a much higher level. If the songs appeal to you and speak to you, then you will love this movie. I definitely did. 9/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."