My Favorite Movies – Begin Again (2014)

20 Oct

By Tanner Smith

Here’s a movie that I watched for the first time during quarantine in 2020 and I instantly fell in love with.

“Begin Again,” written & directed by John Carney (who also made Once and Sing Street)…you know, I don’t like that title. “Begin Again?” I’m just gonna call it “Twice,” because it’s essentially a Hollywood remake of Carney’s indie hit “Once.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with it having many shades of “Once.” Far from it. In fact, I absolutely praise and adore this movie for being so great at being what it is: a wonderfully acted & executed “a-star-is-born” story with equal parts domestic realism and fairy-tale sweetness.

I rented the DVD from the library before quarantining with my family during lockdown in 2020. Soon after watching it (for the first time), I’ve shown it to my mom, who loves it as much as I do, and we watched it countless times together.

I could say I don’t know how I missed this movie when it was released in 2014, but maybe I was too focused on films like Boyhood and Life Itself to pay attention to much else. But better late than never.

Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo star in the movie. Knightley plays an English singer-songwriter who joins her boyfriend (Adam Levine, strangely not playing himself) who’s a pop icon making it big in New York City. That her talents are underappreciated by his record label is bad enough, but he’s also been having an affair with one of his assistants. This leads her to perform a sad ballad at an open-mic rathole, where no one seems to pay attention to her…except for Ruffalo, who plays a depressed, alcoholic, washed-up record producer who hears magic in her performance.

The moment I saw that scene, in which Ruffalo watches and listens to Knightley perform her song “A Step You Can’t Take Back,” was when I knew I was going to love this movie. Upon first viewing, I had to rewind and replay it three times before continuing the rest of the film. Everything about that scene made me happy. It’s a moment in which Ruffalo shines as a down-on-his-luck alcoholic depressive suddenly finds purpose.

It’s also a good song, which leads me to another reason for me to love this movie: the original soundtrack is very impressive! As the movie progresses, with Ruffalo producing an album for Knightley and her newly recruited backup band in a most unconventional way (not recording inside a studio but all over NYC outside), we get catchy tracks like “Coming Up Roses” and “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home,” all of which I would happily pay for, download, and listen to repeatedly!

Oh, and there’s a song Knightley and James Corden (playing her friend who helps with the album) perform a breakup song for Levine over voicemail. The song (“Like a Fool”) is good, but there’s a moment where Corden tries to bring a kazoo into the accompaniment that freaking kills me! (Corden gets a lot of flack as an actor, but he’s funny and likable here as Knightley’s friend.)

The only songs I didn’t care for were the ones I don’t think I was supposed to like, such as Levine’s remixed pop hits. Whenever they play, I mock, “Ugh! I’m sick of Maroon 5!”

And I love the overall spirit of these talented people “going indie,” as I like to put it, and creating their art without the help of wealthy studio execs. (You could argue that’s a bit hypocritical, since this film was made and released by a big studio. But do I care? NO!)

The biggest song that apparently got a lot of attention after this film’s release was “Lost Stars,” which was also nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar. We hear many versions of this song (including a horrible studio-influenced remix), but the final version, performed by a sincere Levine…..yeah it’s pretty great. (Congrats, movie–you got me to like a 2010s Adam Levine song.)

So, yeah! I love “Begin Again”–er, “Twice.” I love it as much as any other movie made by this super-talented filmmaker who clearly loves music and film and the way the two can blend together to convey emotion and passion.

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