A film that evades the year’s heavier onscreen moments, “Begin Again” carries a light and fun movie experience for the summer with romance, comedy and hope.
With the entrancing scenery of New York City, director John Carney (“Once”) uses the story to be in and of the city throughout the film. The film begins with a friend of Greta (Keira Knightley), Steve (James Corden), inviting her onto the stage to introduce a bit of her own music. Mortified, Greta shares heartbroken lyrics with an uninterested audience. Yet her lyrics engross Dan (Mark Ruffalo), the head of a record company who feels inspired by her performance. The plot unfolds through this scene, and Carney frequently returns to it as the vital and hopeful turning point for them all.
Greta is a humble British singer and songwriter who follows Dave (Adam Levine), her musician boyfriend, to New York on a journey toward fame and booming success. The beautiful and talented Knightley brings more than just her usually exceptional acting chops to the screen. In her onscreen singing debut, Knightley’s voice melds with her acting skills to bring a vulnerability to every performance.
Greta partners with Dan, a separated husband and father who tries to rekindle what seems like a lost relationship with his wife, Miriam (Catherine Keener) and daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Violet is a teenage girl who has only viewed her father from a distance for the past few years and has just now been given more chances at knowing his true character. Steinfeld plays the troubled but mature Violet well; she introduces sincerity to scenes that would in other respects have her come off as a snobbish adolescent.
Dan and Greta’s relationship creates a hopeful tone that carries the rest of the film. The charming chemistry between Knightley and Ruffalo rescues the story from dissolving into cliched and stale moments. Ruffalo is perfect as the worn-out and bitterly tired former record executive who hasn’t signed any good talent for years. Ruffalo’s hilariously entertaining performance brings just the right amount of candor and sincerity to what may have been an otherwise weak story.
The duo begins creating music with friends and a few strangers collected throughout the city to organize a demo album. The recordings take place all around New York and capture the beauty in the dreamy features of the city. A film oozing positivity and inspirational hope, “Begin Again” does not emit sappiness but balances well with the realism in the characters’ flawed lives.
Adding to the film’s lightheartedness, Corden matches Ruffalo in delivering an entertainingly funny performance as Steve, though Levine’s performance may not be memorable. Where Levine fails to provide a solid performance to fulfill believable chemistry in a five-year-long relationship, Knightley reliably delivers the right acting skills to save their shared scenes.
“Begin Again” supplies laughs and just the right amount of sentimentality. It wins with warm moments shared through Ruffalo and Knightley’s onscreen chemistry and delivers a fun and sweet love story for the summer.