Review: Begin Again

Begin Again
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Director: John Carney
Cert: 15A
Genre: Musical
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld
Running Time: 1 hr 43 mins

It is somewhat jarring to note that Begin Again, a delightful musical sickeningly in love with New York City, counts as the seventh feature by our own John Carney. He's made space comedies, incest dramas and ghost stories. For the time being, however, Carney is destined to be known for a particular kind of loose-limbed urban musical. Fair enough. Stanley Donen and John Ford did all right by sticking to one genre.

Begin Again makes no attempt to distance itself from Carney's lovely Once. As in that picture, the action concerns a scruffy man and a tidier woman singing songs on the streets of a beautiful city.

Keira Knightley – making good use of that scrunched-up smile – plays Gretta, an Englishwoman unkindly adrift in New York. Her boyfriend (Adam Levine from Maroon 5), a musician in the sombre school, has recently found success and has let it go to his lovely head. Now alone and miserable, Gretta allows a chum to talk her into singing one of her own songs at a club.

Few among the audience pay any attention. But Dan (Mark Ruffalo), an A and R man fallen on drunken times, hears something special in Gretta’s tunes. Following various complications, they set out to record an album in and about the streets of the city.


There’s an interesting tension here between the artificiality of the musical genre and the passion for “authenticity” that characterises (and sometimes taints) so much Irish film and music. In that early club scene, Carney risks an outbreak of fantasy as various musical instruments come alive and play an accompaniment to Gretta’s tune. Elsewhere, mobile cameras take us about real streets as we hear approximations of live tunes recorded in alleyways and on rooftops.

Happily, Carney has honed his inauthentic authenticity to the edge of perfection and the music soars throughout. The actors also manage to bring faltering naturalness to a script that believes in love, is tolerant of artistic passion and otherwise blissfully uninterested in cynicism. The result is a film that, while fitting into various great traditions, still bears the unmistakable thumbprint of a singular film-maker. It’s gorgeous. It’s a hoot. It’s sets the toe tapping.

Our only complaint is the lack of acknowledgement for Michael Finnegan (begin again).

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist