‘Begin Again:’ Music To My Eyes

The word that came to mind repeatedly while viewing Begin Again is “quaint.” As in, “Aw, how quaint that Adam Levine is acting in movies now,” and, “The idea of Keira Knightly being a brooding singer-songwriter is so quaint!” It may seem like an insult, but it isn’t, necessarily. While eye-rollingly predictable and in many ways totally and completely unrealistic and idealist, Begin Again is terminally cute, and quite quaint, like a kitsch-y farmhouse insisting upon maintaining its charm while cold, concrete apartment buildings go up on either side of it. You can’t blame it for being what it is. It’s not hurting anyone, and you sort of understand why some people would insist on its existence. It’s quaint!

Mark Ruffalo (the corduroy of actors…warm, earthy, New York-y) plays the stumbling, alcoholic Dan, a head of a music label he owns with Mos Def. He’s getting squeezed out of his own company because of the aforementioned alcoholism, along with the fact that he hasn’t signed a successful band in a long time, and he refuses to give in to the label’s shift to cultivated pop stars, television, the Twitter, and other modern-day death traps for happiness. He has an almost-ex-wife in Catherine Keener, and an understandably angst daughter in Hailee Steinfeld. 

On a particularly rough night, Dan trips his way into a bar where there’s an open mic, and he hears “the next big thing” in singer-songwriter Greta (Keira Knightly), a Brit who’s found herself alone in New York after her long term relationship with pop star Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) swiftly went the way of the rock-and-roll-relationship gods. Greta is a writer for the sake of it, with plans to leave and go home the next morning, but Dan convinces her to stay and record with him. They end up producing a whole album, performing throughout New York, in parks, in subway stations, on rooftops, basically in all the places no one would actually be allowed to perform without a permit of some kind. 

It’s fun but totally out there in terms of the plot; unrealistic in the same way that Disney Channel Original Movies are (based in humanity, then simplified, stripped of real conflict, and cartoon-ified). Knightly isn’t a singer, or a songwriter, and she doesn’t really pretend to be one successfully. If another actress, one who actually felt anything for the music, were in her place, perhaps Begin Again would have felt different, heavier, more real. She replaced Scarlett Johansson, who was originally supposed to star. That would have made the movie darker, more sexually-charged than it needed to be, but at least the girl can sort of perform into a microphone. 

Guest stars like Adam Levine (who was just about adequate) and Cee Lo Green, the most hilarious potato of a human being, plant the film firmly in the realm of “cuteness.” It sort of seems like an extended GAP commercial; everyone looks like they’re having fun, frolicking through the streets of New York playing upbeat, sunshine-infused pop songs. So like, what’s wrong with that? I’ll buy those jeans.

Grade: B

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