Friday, July 11, 2014

Begin Again (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Begin Again” Is
A Familiar Tune

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Yes, Keira Knightley can sing. And no, it’s not in a musical version of a Jane Austen novel.

“Begin Again” is a tuneful rom-com that harkens back to those old ‘40s musicals like “The Barkleys of Broadway” or “Blue Skies.” But properly updated for today’s sensibilities. It’s currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Here we have a Brit songwriting duo, Greta and Dave (Keira Knightley and Adam Levine), who go to New York to make their mark on the music world. A long-time couple, Greta is happy for Dave when he lands a deal with a major record label.

But this wouldn’t be much of a movie plot, if writer-director John Carney had left it at that.

So let’s add a little turmoil: All this success goes to Dave’s head and (surprise, surprise!) he winds up in the arms of another woman. Poor Greta, cast aside like a rag doll. And thus Dave becomes known as her “no-good ex-boyfriend.”

Apparently John Carney learned his plotting from watching those old musicals. Enter Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a down-on-his-luck record exec. Drinking and all that. He happens upon the forlorn girl singing in an East Village club. Next thing you know, they are a successful songwriting team (“a mutually transformative relationship” as the press kit calls it). There’s no big spoiler in telling you that love blooms amidst a summer cityscape in New York.

And you’ll enjoy the soundtrack. Several songs are performed by Keira Knightley (“Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home,” “Lost Stars,” et al.). Sexy hunk Adam Levine has his moments too (“No One Else Like You,” “Higher Place”). Mark Ruffalo, not so much. But he adds his scruffy “good guy” presence.

Rapper CeeLo Green pops up as Trouble Gum. He delivers several numbers (“Horny,” “Your Next Move,” “Women Of The World”).

You will also meet Dan’s former business partner (hip hop artist Mos Def), his estranged wife (Catherine Keener), and his rebellious daughter (Hailee Steinfeld).

Even John Carney (you’ll remember him as the director of “Once” … I have its soundtrack on my iPhone) lends his hand to the songwriting. The end credits acknowledge his input on “Like A Fool” and “Step You Can’t Take Back.” Keep in mind, Dublin-born Carney’s no amateur at this; he used to be bassist with the Irish rock band The Flames.

As one of Keira Knightley’s songs puts it, by the end of the story she’s “Coming Up Roses.” That song was written by Carney’s old collaborator on the movie “Once,” The Flames’ frontman Glen Hansard.

Think of “Begin Again” as being similar to “Once,” but with a bigger budget and famous stars.

Yes, Keira Knightley can sing. And it’s very entertaining. But with her “little girl” voice, she’d best keep her day job as an actress.

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