"Where There’s a Song There’s a Way"
BEGIN AGAIN is about a divorced record producer who finds loses his job but finds a way to redeem himself when he discovers a promising young female singer at an open mic bar. BEGIN AGAIN is a whimsical, charming, fantasy-laden rags to riches story in a musical context, but becomes weighed down by its implausible situations and a steady stream of obscenities.
BEGIN AGAIN is a charming romantic drama about the power of music, but it has lots of strong foul language and brief lewd references.
Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a recording studio producer in a rut. He hasn’t been able, or willing, to sign a new hit artist in years. At the same time, his marriage disintegrates when his wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener), announces she is leaving him for another man. To make matters worse, on this day, his boss lets him go, which is doubly painful for Dan because he made the label a recording industry powerhouse in the first place. Dan winds up that evening at an open mic bar trying to drink away his misery.
Also present at the venue is Gretta (Keira Knightly), a songwriter and occasional singer, who came to the bar with her old buddy, Steve (James Corden), who is singing that night. Gretta isn’t in much better emotional shape than Dan. Her recording pop star live-in boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine), has just dumped her for their real estate agent, Jill (Mary Catherine Garrison), and Gretta leaves on a jet plane the next day.
After much pleading and cajoling, Steve talks the hurting Gretta into performing one of her songs. Dan soon becomes totally enthralled by the song. After hearing Gretta, he’s convinced she will be the next singing sensation. Drunk and disheveled, Dan tells Gretta that he can make her a star. She turns down his proposal, but when he sobers up a little and tells her everything that happened to him, including his firing, Gretta relents and decides to stay in New York.
Dan gets a spark of inspiration. With help from his remaining industry resources, such as Troublegum (Cee Lo Green), who’s now rich and famous thanks to Dan, he comes up with the idea of recording Gretta’s first album in various interesting backdrops around the city. Troublegum supplies some musicians. Gretta’s friend Steve owns some basic recording equipment. Some wide-eyed, eager music students and a bored piano teacher are soon added to the ensemble. Even Dan’s daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), participates on electric guitar, with Dan on bass guitar.
BEGIN AGAIN’s highly implausible rags to riches musical story comes true. After all, what else could one need beyond a couple of microphones, a basic recorder in the trunk of a car, and milk bottle crates for stands?
Mark Ruffalo’s inspired, energetic, optimistic performance helps overcome the implausibility of this story. Keira Knightly, although up to the same level as Ruffalo, still wins the audience with her singing, and gentle, yet idealistic attitude. Adam Levine (lead singer for the rock band Maroon 5) is very good as Dave, the gifted, but rather pathetic, singer who lacks a smidgen of a conscience. Finally, extra credit should go to Hailee Steinfeld for her role as Dan’s daughter. She displays the range of restrained emotions and struggles so many children have when coming from broken homes.
Director/Writer John Carney is to be commended for steering the plot away from a more salacious story line. Editor Marcus Andrew Marcus also deserves kudos for his editing in replaying scenes from different points of view, and going back and forth in time without making it utterly confusing. In the movie’s very beginning, when Dan notices Gretta performing at the bar accompanied only by her guitar, the audience is brought into visually share what Dan is seeing in his mind. One instrument after another joins in the piece until a full band is backing Gretta up, turning a flat, rather boring song, into a complex and emotionally powerful musical rendition.
On the other hand, it’s a shame that a pleasant, albeit unrealistic and slow-paced, romantic drama like this, with some underlying positive values such as family and personal integrity, had to be saddled with so much foul language, including many “f” words.” Media-wise viewers will want to bypass BEGIN AGAIN precisely because of its gratuitous crude content.
(Ro, B, C, LLL, V, S, N, AA, D, M) Light Romantic worldview with some moral, redemptive elements, including one man asks for forgiveness, family is extolled, and main character approached by street evangelist and he sidesteps the issue, but he accepts a paper tract handed to him and is not shown throwing it away; about 57 obscenities (including many “f” words) and five profanities (two GDs); some violence includes a punch thrown, painting falls on man’s head, woman slaps boyfriend, man throws glass against wall; no implied or depicted sex scenes but some sexual allusions, including references to past adultery, cheating, young woman lives with her boyfriend, divorce, and woman crudely tells ex-husband boys are after their rebellious teenager daughter, who says she bought condoms in another scene; upper male nudity and some female cleavage; alcohol use and drunkenness; some heavy smoking; and, cheating, man is estranged from his rebellious teenage daughter but they grow closer together during movie, tattoos, and man and his daughter run out of café without paying when they realize they have no money.
BEGIN AGAIN asks the question: Can a washed-up record producer and an unknown female singer together find redemption and success overnight? Not easily, but if viewers suspend their belief a little, they might perhaps enjoy the ride. Dan, an old-fashioned record producer, suffers from a destructive pursuit of perfection. He can’t bring himself to engage in simply commercially successful projects, rather than masterpieces few people want to hear. Meanwhile, Gretta, an idealistic young singer, has just been dumped by her singing star boyfriend. Dan and Gretta conveniently meet at an open mic bar, where Dan recognizes Gretta’s potential, though no one else does.
The music and story in BEGIN AGAIN are pleasant enough. Also, all the actors are excellent in their individual roles. However, pleasant doesn’t make a great movie, though BEGIN AGAIN does have its charms. Sadly, the many obscenities sprinkled throughout the movie drag it down. Even so, the movie still manages to celebrate the virtues of family, personal integrity, and the beauty of music. The foul language in BEGING AGAIN, and some lewd references, warrant extreme caution.