Continuing my look at ten films that deserve just as much awards consideration as Birdman, Selma, and The Theory of Everything, we now turn our attention to Begin Again. Begin Again came out this summer and did pretty well both with audiences and critics. While everyone seems to agree that Begin Again will probably get at least a nomination for Best Original Song, I think that it’s actually worthy of even more consideration.
Begin Again is the latest film from John Carney, who previously directed one of my favorite films of all time, Once. Admittedly, Begin Again is nowhere near as good as Once but it’s still a charming film when taken on its own terms.
Mark Ruffalo plays Dan Mulligan, a record label executive who, at the start of the film, has definitely seen better days. His marriage is collapsing, he’s struggling to connect with his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), and he’s just recently been fired from the company that he helped to found. After a day of binge drinking, Dan finds himself in a bar where he hears Gretta James (Keira Knightley) sing a song.
Dan is immediately taken with Gretta’s music but she has issues of her own. She had just broken up with her boyfriend and songwriting partner, Dave (Adam Levine, in his film acting debut). Though initially reluctant, Gretta eventually allows Dan to attempt to sign her to his former label. However, Dan’s former partner (played by Mos Def) refuses to sign her which leads to Dan and Gretta independently producing an album together, with the gimmick that the album will be recorded at various public locations across New York.
There’s really not that much plot to Begin Again but that’s actually a huge part of the film’s appeal. The film rejects melodrama and easy sentimentality and instead, it focuses on the characters. (That said, Begin Again is definitely a sentimental movie but it’s sentimental in the best possible way.) The movie is about how two different people come together and, for their own individual reasons, create something special. Ruffalo and Knightley have a lot of chemistry, Levine is hilariously dorky, and Mos Def is entertaining as the epitome of everything that’s wrong with the music industry. Best of all, Begin Again — much like Once before it — perfectly captures the thrill of artistic collaboration. The scenes of Knightley and Ruffalo recording their album are exuberant celebrations of everything that’s wonderful about performance and expression.
And, of course, the music is great!