I have waited a long time for a movie that could recreate the magic of “Once.” Seven years later, director John Carney has put a new spin on his two-strangers-meet-and-record-a-cd concept with the movie “Begin Again.” Simply put, the story is amazing and this is a must-see. While the plot is very reminiscent of “Once,” it focuses on the climate of today’s recording industry and the need for “true artists” instead of sell-outs. The foundation of the film is built on incredible acting from Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. I appreciate that the actors in this film do their own singing and I had no clue that Knightley had such an enchanting voice. It isn’t overly trained; instead, it has a bit of innocence that works perfectly for the character. Ruffalo has a chance to express an array of emotions and effectively manages the balance between scumbag and hero. Following the trend created by movies like “Once” and “Before Sunset,” the acting feels very candid as if the conversation-driven script is real life unfolding before our eyes. The supporting performances by Catherine Keener and Mos Def enhance the realism of the film. The highlight of “Begin Again” is the inclusion of full musical performances as a natural component of the story. From Knightley’s first performance on stage, we build a connection to her character through music. The film gets better with each musical recording sequence and the CD concept creates unique settings for each sequence. I believe that “Lost Stars” could win the Oscar for Best Song and many of the other songs are just as deserving. Unfortunately, an overabundance of unnecessary f-words and a poor acting performance by Adam Levine cheapen this otherwise incredible film. Levine was okay but, when paired with veteran actors like Knightley and Ruffalo, his lack of experience became apparent. As for the f-words, they really ruined a lot of this film for me. Only one expletive seemed necessary (the one that occurs in the voicemail song recording), and the rest detract from an otherwise captivating series of conversations. Still, even those moments could not keep me from loving every minute of the film. “Begin Again” is a story of friendship, perseverance, and the unexpected turns of real life. All of these things are centered around the performance of amazing music and its ability to transform people. I can't wait to see what John Carney comes up with next.
[Pictured: The outdoor recording scenes are the best]