Love it or hate it, we are all due to hear a lot more of The Pogues Christmas classic, Fairytale of New York as the festive period draws ever closer. By happy coincidence, John Carney’s own New York fairytale romance, Begin Again, hits the shelves this week and is sure to separate the Tiny Tim’s from the Scrooges, as Greta (Keira Knightley) and Dan (Mark Ruffalo) find a kinship in their mutual heartbreak and anti establishment protests against the evil music industry (Mos Def with a weird beard).
Greta, a talented singer songwriter from the fair isles of Britain, is drowning in the gulf of people who don’t give a fuck in New York City, as ex-boyfriend and musical partner Dave Kohl (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) runs off to become a mega rockstar and embody the life that comes with it. Dan, a talented music producer, has hit the bottle following a collapse in his marriage, a daughter that doesn’t respect him and a music industry that doesn’t understand him. At the end of this lonely road the two are treading, in a smoky bar in Manhattan, the two will fatefully meet and change each others lives.
It is a predictably archetypal set up, but this Meet Cute has a difference, as there is a third player in the romance – music. The music will be the driving force for their lives to improve as the two agree for Dan to produce Greta’s album on the streets of New York City, both an act of defiance against the industry and a tribute to a city that has such a resonance in the history of music. As a direct coincidence, the lost souls find refuge in the process and as the album comes together, as do their lives.
Disappointingly, despite it’s integral part to play in the film, the music is arguably the films biggest underachiever. Commendation goes to New Radicals lead, Gregg Alexander, who penned all the tracks used in the film and Carney’s decision not to go with a Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist killer soundtrack approach. However, as perfectly acceptable as the tracks are for the films purpose, they sound over engineered and do not carry the emotional resonance of tracks heard in Carney’s adored 2006 film Once, which, perhaps harshly, Begin Again will invariably draws comparison to.
Thankfully however, the film’s performances are able to lift the film and generate a genuine swell of support for it’s lead characters. Knightley brings an innocence and vulnerability to the role, and whilst there are points where she falters, Ruffalo capably lifts her with his reckless abandon and gruff charm. Even Levine fulfils his role with aplomb, making the girls swoon and the guys jealous before breaking hearts with his inexplicable treatment of Greta, whilst providing great vocals on the tracks to boot. All the while, smaller roles taken on by James Corden, Mos Def and CeeLo Green provide some welcomed light relief at some of the films darker moments.
Like many rom-coms, Begin Again is saccharine sweet and shamefully predictable at it’s core, but on a cold and lonely night there is assurance in this formula bringing some light relief to all its audiences. It is by no means a classic romance, but it’s optimism and phoenix from the ashes tale is sure to warm even the most cynical of souls and give us all renewed hope that one day we can find love, and maybe, just maybe, a decent track in the charts.
Begin Again is out on Blu Ray & DVD now.
Words > Sam Lawrence