*** (out of four)
Formerly going by the far worse name of “Can A Song Save Your Life?,” “Begin Again” in some ways could be seen as writer-director John Carney’s attempt at "Twice” to follow-up his lovely 2006 musical drama “Once.” His long-awaited return again features loads of great music central to the relationships among its uniformly well-acted characters. At the center is Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a music exec who screams, “It’s [bleep],” as he tosses countless terrible demos out his window, and Gretta (Knightley), a songwriter prepping to leave New York after the end of her relationship with suddenly famous douche Dave (Levine). Dan hears Gretta perform at a bar, and bam: He must work with her and collect the musicians to create the arrangement in his head, depicted in one of the movie’s many joyous scenes.
With “Begin Again,” Carney shows both love and art as a discovery waiting to happen, with different sounds and feelings sometimes a matter of tapping into something others can’t detect. He uses lyrics as confession and kiss-off, encapsulation of things we can’t say and might not even consciously know until they’re put to a melody. The solid original songs come from Gregg Alexander, leader of the sadly short-lived New Radicals. Cee Lo also has a small role, in case seeing Levine really made you yearn for someone else from “The Voice.”
The movie’s not perfect. The backstory of Dan’s separation from his wife (Catherine Keener) and estrangement from his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) feels as obvious as his boozing, and Carney flirts with a musical superiority that gets too close to elitism for comfort. Dan’s job (leaving a major label to start an indie) and perspective also feel a lot like Paul Rudd in “This is 40,” and “Begin Again” doesn’t really track Dan’s personal life outside of his interactions with Gretta. The result: a significantly botched ending.
Allow me to shrug that off, sort of. The warm, passionate “Begin Again” is an album of beautiful moments, well-versed in music’s ability to take over mind and body. Your heart and feet won’t be able to resist what might be called—despite the assumed objections of author Nick Hornby—a “High Fidelity” for the iPod generation.
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