Monday, July 14, 2014

Begin Again (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Begin Again

Irish wunderkind John Carney scores another warm but existential hit that is a quasi follow-up to the beloved and very successful "Once."

In this film, we are again inside the perilous environment of music and romance with cinematography appropriately muted in coffee tones. But this time, Carney trades in Dublin for New York City.

The compelling Mark Ruffalo is Dan Mulligan, an arrogant and volatile record producer who made his own company from the ground up. Dan is going through a bad spell: his behavior is increasingly aggressive and he can't hold it together. He is fired and takes to a crummy apartment but it is more accurate to say Dan is homeless.

At a bohemian bar, Dan is startled out of his bourbon fugue by the striking raw qualities of the unstructured Greta (Keira Knightley) who coos and whispers in the tradition of a Norah Jones. Dan is like an addled Santa Claus, he's so used to being morose that he can't quite imagine what he hears, but he is awake. The song hits him like belladonna. Dan is a Bacchus, struck by a formation of faraway suns.

He tries to get the modest Greta to record a demo but she has no interest, thinking Dan a ne'er do well.

In a way, that is what he is.

Dan is persuasive enough to make Greta sleep on the concept and Dan is saved from a heartsick hovel at least for the time being.

The surprise of a new sound keeps Dan from despair, he is a kind of Clement Greenberg of the music world, seeing melody in terms of imagery and color. There is a playful interlude where we see instruments coming to life that recalls Disney's Fantasia segment, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".

Along with this vexation, Dan tries to smooth things over with his non plussed self-absorbed daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and a slightly damp alternative ex wife (Catherine Keener).

As a kind of parallel to Jon Favreau's hit film "Chef", Dan has to convince others that he is worth it and strikes out on his own encountering a medley of semi eccentric characters, including the feverishly tattooed and Minion-like CeeLo Green with a street angel's voice.

Actor James Corden steals the show as the hyperactive and rambling Steve, a loyal friend of Greta's who belts out his songs in a roaring voice.

The core of this sonic morality tale however, lies  with Mark Ruffalo who is a contradictory stew of emotions with the movement of knotty choices showing throughout his face. At times he is a sorrowful bear, bothered and buzzed by his disappointments. At others, he is a mad imp, charmed and changed by the non polarizing thrum of a live band, garage made, ungrounded by pre-packaged effects.

Anti-pop fans might well get a kick out of the handsome  Adam Levine  who plays Greta's narcissistic boyfriend Dave, selling out by film's end. In one scene, Levine sports a huge bushy and black beard, perhaps as a tongue in cheek tribute to "Inside Llewyn Davis".

Although some aspects make for Carney's usual stomping grounds, (this is, after all another underdog musician story), Carney weaves such innocence within his characters as they spin their high energy tunes, you can't fail to miss its percussive feeling and may well spill a cymbal-full of tears.

"Begin Again" is a well crafted intimate valentine which almost creates an alternate world where the garishness of Autotune effects are unheard of and those bohemian musicians in caf├ęs are still king. When you see the band Beatle-bound on a skyscraper roof, the water-works are sure to start. At such a point, it is deliriously easy to make the leap, believing against rationale that the MusicWorld has left the guitar, the cello and the drums untouched, to imagine that a Second Coming of a rattling and handmade music is somehow possible in the Mainstream and is sure to re-ascend soon.

Write Ian at

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