Does it sometimes seem as if Mark Ruffalo is in every movie? Well, he has done 30 movies in the past 10 years, according to Internet Movie Database (imdb.com). But I like him, it seems as if he’s always good, he gets award nominations, and he’s especially good in last year’s Begin Again, a movie also starring Keira Knightley, about music and written\directed by John Carney, who wrote and directed Once.
Knightley plays Greta, an aspiring singer\songwriter, and Ruffalo plays Dan, a “de-frocked” record company executive and music producer. He’s “de-frocked” because he’s a drunk, and he’s mis-behaved his way out of a job and a marriage (Hallie Steinfeld plays his daughter, and Catherine Keener is his ex-wife). Greta is from England, and she’s 90% out of a relationship to the musician who’s come with her to New York (played by Adam Levine, the frontman for Maroon 5).
“Begin Again” might be a musical instruction — to start over and play the piece one more time from the beginning. But of course it has more global connotations related to relationships and starting over, and so it is here. There’s a magical scene early in the movie in which Greta is performing in a bar, and Dan is in the audience. She’s clearly not a polished performer and is a little tentative, but as Dan watches you can see him come alive — he’s taken with the strength of the song, and she (being Keira Knightley) is truly quite beautiful. As he watches, suddenly there’s a drumkit and drummer behind her, then a bass player, then a violinist. At first I was confused — is this really happening?– but quickly I realized that Dan, being a music producer, is mentally supplying the song with the other instruments it needs for a realized production. As in Once, Carney is interested in how music works, how a song is composed and put together, and shows us just how that might be done with Greta’s song.
If you’ve seen a few movies, you can easily see where this is going — Dan and Greta “meet cute” (as the expression goes), experience a little conflict, but ultimately agree to work together, recording her songs in a number of New York City locations. Dan rustles up backup musicians (including his daughter Violet, who surprises him by requesting to play guitar on a song, a skill he, absentee dad that he is, doesn’t realize she has.
Thoroughly charming, and Knightley can really sing — as I noted, she’s a little tentative in that early song, but she gets better, becomes more assured as she goes on.
So both Greta and Dan get to begin again.