“Begin Again,” my favorite movie of this young summer, tells the story of a down-and-out record company exec (Mark Ruffalo), an up-and coming free spirit singer/songwriter (Keira Knightley) and a breakout rock star who looks and sounds an awful lot like Maroon 5’s Adam Levine.
It’s a solid follow-up to writer/director John Carney’s debut effort, “Once,” while never quite reaching the heights of its predecessor. There are so many ways this movie could have gone off the rails, it’s a miracle it delivers such a satisfying experience; especially
when you consider the first 15 minutes, which feel forced and sitcomish. After that, it lives up to its name, literally beginning again.
Here’s what could have gone horribly wrong but didn’t:
Actors gotta sing – Keira Knightly does her own singing and it’s not bad, sort of from the Lisa Loeb school of breathless fragility. Certainly credible enough for her character, who puts the emphasis on songwriter after all. And she sounds better than half the women on the radio. How many movies have been ruined by actors trying to sing? A lot. This isn’t one of them.
Singers gotta act – Same concept. I guess nobody’s happy being themselves. Fortunately, Adam Levine does a serviceable job playing Adam Levine (albeit with a different name). Not a stretch and he doesn’t screw it up. During his big apology scene, my wife leaned over to me and said, “I’ll bet he’s said that a thousand times before.”
The music – Rock movies live and die by their soundtracks, which have to sound legit. Nothing kills the mood faster than sappy music. (Neil Diamond’s “The Jazz Singer” and Barbra Streisand’s “A Star is Born” come to mind.) Luckily, these tunes were penned by ex-New Radicals genius front-man Gregg Alexander (“You Get What You Give,” “Game of Love”) and they all sound so freshly- minted, you’d gladly add them to your Spotify rotation.
The Formula – Nearly all movies have a formula, but thankfully, this one isn’t Hollywood, it’s Carneywood. Mini-spoiler alert: Despite some obvious chemistry, Ruffalo and Knightley don’t wind up together in an improbable May/September romance. I’m good with it, because I’ve seen that plotline play out dozens of time before. Instead, “Begin Again” gives us its own kind of happy ending, one that shines the spotlight on the healing power of music. Finally, something we can all believe in.