Surely you remember “Once,” that lovely indie drama from 2007 about the Irish guy and the Czech girl who connected through music, and who eventually sang their pretty song at the Oscars. Remember how sweet and plainspoken the film was, how its raw, micro-budget sensibility was so endearing? John Carney, its writer and director, remembers, and has tried unsuccessfully to duplicate the magic with the aptly named “Begin Again.”
This time, instead of two unknowns who are skilled musicians, it’s Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley. He’s a floundering New York record producer who’s so sick of all the corporate B.S., man, and just wants to find an “authentic” artist; she’s an aspiring singer-songwriter who is exactly what he wants. Their story follows a “Once”-like trajectory in that it’s pleasant, aimless, and mostly free of conflict (their exes, played by Catherine Keener and Adam Levine, contribute little). But where the other film had a naturalistic vibe, this one feels slicker and more calculated — the kind of inauthentic art, ironically, that Ruffalo’s character is fed up with. A few isolated scenes cast a spell (kudos to Hailee Steinfeld as Ruffalo’s daughter), but overall it feels like a passionless “Once” without any stakes.
C (1 hr., 44 min.; )
Originally published in the Portland Mercury.