It’s billed as a romance, and
the trailers imply that stars Keira Knightley (29 years old) and Mark
Ruffalo (47 years old) form the unlikely pairing.
But fortunately, that’s not the way it plays
Again” is really about romancing the music.
Mark Ruffalo plays Dan, a
middle-aged man who seems kinda out of control.
He takes nips from his flask in the glove box
on his way to picking up his daughter from school.
He actually takes her to a bar, and drinks some
more, then drags her to a business meeting where he shows up drunk,
disheveled, obstreperous, caustic, and disruptive.
He gets away with it, temporarily, because
it’s his own company, a record label that he co-founded several years ago,
but his sober and sobering partner is even now arranging the squeeze-out.
After some big initial success, the company has
fallen on hard times, and has missed too many “bets” on new talent.
But Dan still has better
instincts than any of them, and he proves it by stumbling into a
bar and happening upon a singer/songwriter, Greta (Knightley),
who just blows him away.
Though the long-time flame, and now
ex-girlfriend, of an emerging superstar recording artist, Dave (Adam Levine
of “The Voice”), Greta’s simple style hearkens back to the old
coffeehouse acoustic days.
Dan loves the clear unpretentiousness of her
voice, but hears arrangements in his head that he thinks could enhance the
effect without diminishing the clarity.
Before we know it, we have a drummer, a bass
player, a keyboardist, and even a cellist and violinist, all struggling but
talented musicians. And
Dan, with the renewed energy of a formerly-successful man with something to
prove, manages to record the ragtag but harmonious band “live” at
various venues in New York City, like under the shadow of the Empire State
Building, or in an alleyway where children are playing (no problem, just
recruit the kids for a backup chorus).
But we aren’t through
shoestring recording sessions inspire Greta and Dan to offer them, not
through traditional record labels, but through online streaming, effectively
bypassing the whole industry, which just might be a message in itself.
Meanwhile, the love stories
abound, but not always in traditional fashion.
The relationship between Dan and his daughter
Violet (Hailee Steinfeld) improves, and the fact that she can play a little
guitar doesn’t hurt.
Dan’s relationship with his estranged wife
Miriam (Catherine Keener) also improves, but as for Greta and Dave, not so
betrayals are beyond repair.
Though the language is
definitely R-rated, another surprise is the distinct lack of
sexuality/nudity scenes, and even a light admonition from Greta to Violet
about not needing to “dress like a tart” to attract boys:
“leave something to the imagination.”
(Wow, is the pendulum really swinging back
toward more modest female apparel?).
But there’s a certain luminescence, even
exuberance, to this film that’s also a tribute to great music and a
New York City
, with all its flawed genius.
“Begin Again” does not
exactly deliver what the pre-advertising promises, but what it does present
is something even better:
a nuanced modern urban story with some good
acting and some very good musical performances.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,