Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo in Begin Again (2013)


(director/writer: John Carney; cinematographer: Yaron Orbach; editor: Andrew Marcus; music: Gregg Alexander; cast: Keira Knightley (Gretta), Mark Ruffalo (Dan Mulligan), Hailee Steinfeld (Violet), Adam Levine (Dave Kohl), James Corden (Steve), Mos Def (Saul), Cee Lo Green (Troublegum), Catherine Keener (Miriam), Jennifer Li (Mim); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Anthony Bregman/Tobin Armbrust/Judd Apatow; the Weinstein Company; 2013)

“Makes for a pleasant time killer about how music brings people together.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Irish writer-director John Carney(“Once”/”Zonad”/”The Rafters”) returns to making a musical drama and succeeds again but to a lesser degree even though he has a bigger budget and bigger stars, as he revisits themes about musical purity versus manufactured pop stars and not selling out for commercial success from his indie 2006 hit Once. The feel-good sitcom is set in NYC, and the three charming leads — Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, and Catherine Keener — allow you to forget how artificially sweet and predictable is the modest story and how uninspiring is the music.

One time innovative record producer Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has fallen on hard times the past few years, as he’s been dismissed from the indie company he founded by his silky smooth savvy commercial-minded business partner Saul (Mos Def), is separated from his music-journalist wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and is estranged from his trampy dressed rebellious 14-year-old sexual hormone pounding needy daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). The result has the suicidal Dan as a lush and an unhappy camper, until on one miserable night Dan drunkenly stumbles into a dive in the Village on open mic night and falls in love with the song of an awkward Brit folk singer guitarist/composer Greta (Keira Knightley), whose doleful song is about being dumped by a lover. From here-on, you will see the same kind of story played out in many Hollywood films, as it leads to a predictable climax, the formulaic plot is filmed by the numbers, and it is especially familiar if you ever saw a sports underdog film. In this one, the two dumped lovers unite to form a working relationship and then a friendship, as they try to win back their former mates through their music. Dan puts his energy into producing a record with an honest sound that has a uniqueness, on the cheap, for Greta, with the help of his musical friends, that’s recorded with a background band live on the landmark streets of the city–like Washington Square Park. The theme of the songs are about Greta’s broken romance with her American singer partner and college sweetheart Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), who, after a song of his was used in a movie, signed a star solo contract with a big studio located in the city and then succumbs to rock idol temptations and dumps the loyal Greta for one of the studio’s beautiful support people (Jennifer Li). This has Greta stranded in the city alone until she meets her friendly countryman busker Steve (James Corden) and he gives her shelter and friendship and a chance to perform on open mic night.

The many songs throughout, none of them memorable, are by Glen Hansard and New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander.

The unambitious movie feels forced in its agenda to promote the powers of music, but makes for a pleasant time killer about how music brings people together.