Saturday, June 6, 2015

Begin Again (2013)

Writer/Director: James Carney (best known for "Once")
Music: Gregg Alexander

Type: indie, music, drama


Dan Mulligan- Mark Ruffalo
Greta- Keira Knightley
Dave Kohl- Adam Levine
Miriam- Catherine Keener
Violet- Hailee Steinfeld
Steve- James Corden
Saul- Yasiin Bey
Troublegum- Cee Lo Green

Notable Nomination:
OSCAR- Best Original Song- "Lost Stars" (Written by Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley and Nick Southwood)


Opening Remarks

IMDb says that this movie came out in 2013, most likely in the indie film circuit otherwise known as the film festivals.
Wikipedia (assuming that site is to be believed... so far it hasn't fed me any misinformation) says it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2013 and reached theaters in June 2014.
I don't remember much about what the actual reviews said, but it got lots of positive feedback and I did have a chance to see it, but decided not to.

It would have been money well spent...

Story in a Nutshell

We open the movie at an open mic night where Steve (James Corden) is performing. After his song, he invites his friend Greta (Keira Knightley) on stage to do one of her songs. She resists at first, but humors him and gives a good coffee shop type performance.

After this scene, we see how our main players arrived at this open mic night.
How Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is a partner at a record company struggling to find an artist to support-- we hilariously see him go through a bunch of demo CD's in his car, hating absolutely every last one of them.
How Greta used to write songs with her boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine), and after a movie turned him into a rock star, he cheated on her and she walked out on him, rooming with Steve.

Dan falls in love Greta's sound at the open mic night and approaches her with the idea of recording an album. Considering his appearance and drunkenness, she's skeptical, but decides to take him up on his offer.
He takes her to his company and they decline to sign her unless she gives them a demo.

Somewhere along the way, they get the idea to record the album themselves in various locations in New York City.
And this endeavor not only gives our characters something to do, but it allows them to grow into better versions of themselves.

Actors and Characters
Some Spoilers ahead...
I'm not sure if I made this point in a previous entry, but I'll say it again:
The great thing about indie films like this is that you really get invested in the characters. You care about what happens to them through the course of the film and you also want to know what happens after the credits stop rolling.
(And it should be noted that you do want to stick through the end credits because the epilogue is pretty sweet).

Coming in, I only knew the first three names of the cast list I posted. All the ads were over within the blink of an eye, so they only focused on those names. I love a lot of Mark Ruffalo's work and I like Keira Knightley a lot... then the fact that this was Adam Levine's first acting gig...
Given all that, I'd been interested in seeing this movie for a while.

For whatever reason, it seems like Mark Ruffalo plays a lot of unlikable characters. At least it seems that way in the first couple scenes he's in.
Here, you think he's a workaholic who got himself divorced because he has a drinking problem. But after getting to know him (during his progress in the movie itself and one conversation he has with Greta), you learn that there's more to it.

Greta and Dave started as a singer-songwriting duo, but his career started moving too fast for her to keep up with- to the point where writing songs for him wasn't enough anymore.

So yeah, Adam's first acting gig and he winds up playing a jerk... maybe not as big a jerk as he could have been... you see it happen in movies all the time where fame goes to a guy's head and he morphs into an ugly version of themselves. In this case, he just cheated on her, she left and he becomes more concerned about making hits than the actual music.

The relationship between Dan and Greta is really nice, how he helps her career in obvious ways and she improves his life in ways that aren't quite as clear-cut-- at least not at first.
And it never goes further than friendship, which helps us avoid a lot of the pitfalls and clich├ęs that mark a lot of rom-coms that get more mainstream theatrical release.

Granted, much of the movie is predictable and maybe things happen much easier than they would if the situation played out in reality... but really, who cares?
It's just a pleasant venture.

A Word on the Music

All I can say... is too bad Greta's album isn't available in the real world on iTunes or Amazon because that's the album I'd want to be. There is a soundtrack available, but it only includes some of her songs, plus a couple sung by Adam Levine and one by Cee-Lo Green (who plays an artist that Dan made huge and therefore owes him for his pimped up successful lifestyle).

All the scenes were music plays are so nice... about as nice as laying in a hammock on a warm spring day. We don't just have the coffee shop vibe with Keira's pleasant voice, but we have a good backing band with piano, bass, drums, violin and cello.
One highlight is where Dan's daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld- first time I'd seen her since the "True Grit" remake) plays some good electric guitar on a track where he also happens to be playing bass (Greta's idea).

Then there's the song "Lost Stars"... I'm not even going to acknowledge the overproduced version that Dave plays for Greta...
It plays throughout the movie in instrumental, you hear her sing in, and at the end, he performs the song at a theatre as she originally wrote it.
...I'd only recently got Maroon 5's new album (a decision I mulled over for almost a year while I was feeling out their new direction) and fell very hard for "Lost Stars"... I heard Adam perform it a couple of times, but this was the first time I'd really listened to it. It reminds me of a bunch of his older songs- like a couple of piano bar type songs from the It Won't Sooner Before Long album- but better.

Major kudos to Gregg Alexander for co-writing all the cool songs in this movie, including "Lost Stars."

Also loved the scene where Dan and Greta go around New York at night, listening to the same iPod with their headphones/earbuds connected.
It's true: you can tell a lot about a person by their playlist.

Peronally, I have several.
I am a HUGE fan of music. I own almost 200 albums by various artists and try to listen through them regularly. And recently, I started investing in some artists from "American Idol" and "The Voice" who released their music via crowdfunding campaigns. It took a while for Alexis Grace and Juliet Simms to get EP's together and the end results were well worth the wait.
"Begin Again" kinda speaks to that persuasion. Maybe times are changing and artists of the future might not need record companies to become successful in their own rights. And considering what has happened to many winners from "The Voice" (Juliet got 2nd place, to someone whose album NEVER came out), the alternate channels may be the better way to go.

So anyway, where I'm going with this, is that if you don't check into this movie for the actors, I'd recommend it for anyone who simply loves music.
Just sit back and let the magic happen while you fall in love with the music and these characters.

Final Comments

I loved the comments Greta and Steve made on Dave's beard when they were watching him give an acceptance speech at an award show. [Thankfully, he got rid of it in the final performance scene]

I feel the same way about Adam when he's coaching on The Voice and doesn't shave. A little stubble is fine, but I fucking hate it when he spends weeks with a full-on beard. (You'd think after he married a Victoria's Secret angel, he'd do that less often)

Actually, in general, I prefer my men [in Hollywood and otherwise] clean-shaven and it's a pet peeve when they all let themselves go when they're not shooting for a film.

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