New York Unplugged – ★★★★
John Carney shot to fame back in 2006 with Once. A simple love story set in Dublin, starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová and with a fantastic soundtrack that captured the hearts of many. It has been made into an award winning musical that has toured all around the globe and saw Glen’s stock soar. Carney’s subsequent projects didn’t have the same limelight or fanfare but with Begin Again he has returned to what he does best, love stories caught up in the world of music.
Opening with “Drowning Pool” by The Walls we see the ramshackle existence of Dan (Mark Ruffalo) who is a down on his luck music executive. He hasn’t signed anyone big in years and seems to be spiralling out of control when to top it all off he gets fired by his business partner. In this same New York universe Greta (Keira Knightley) has just been dumped by her soon to be superstar boyfriend played by Adam Levine (of real life Maroon 5 fame). Drowning his sorrows Dan hears Greta trying to mend her broken heart at a friend’s open mic night and together they try to begin again.
Dan wants to record her album but with no dice from his old partner they go it alone and make the city their recording studio incorporating the sounds of the big apple onto the record. The ramshackle band (with some help from CeeLo Green) attack the task with gusto and try to take music back to it’s roots away from ProTools and celebrity producers. Running alongside their endeavours is Levine who is the embodiment of all they hate, big produced numbers with no heart or emotion. This makes him quite the sport with Carney effectively having him symbolise his own band.
The film is unlikely to win over any new Knightley fans but the chemistry between her and Ruffalo is charming and sweet. The relationship woes she shares with Levine has the possible whiff of a Lisa Hannigan and Damien Rice story or even Glen and Markéta but this is a credit to John Carney’s script as it provides for an engaging yarn. There are lovely supporting turns form James Corden and Catherine Keener with Hailee Steinfeld continuing to show the promise we first saw in True Grit back in 2010.
Yes there are hokey lines that border on cringey but who hasn’t uttered some profound drunken musings on the state of the world and love only to realise how daft they sound in the cold light of day. New York looks beautiful and the segment where Ruffalo and Knightley traverse the streets with no dialogue, mere music to set the scene is one of the best of the year. Begin Again is a film aware of the power of music, that it should be celebrated and cherished ultimately enriching our lives.
Released across Ireland on July 11th 2014