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Review Begin Again

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AgentPete

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I’ll be honest with you. It’s been a tough week in publishing, and at 6:10 on a Friday evening, I’m in the mood for something... escapist? Yes. Undemanding? Sounds good. Vapid? Oh well, if you insist...

At this time of a week, I don’t want to stretch myself too much further than bland or feel good.

BEGIN AGAIN is both of those things. The key question is, will it do it for me? Can it lift me out of myself, get me to suspend my critical faculties, and maybe even... make me feel good. That’s the bargain to be struck: I promise not to be a nasty old cynic - but in return, you, oh movie, must make me feel a whole load better than I did 90 minutes ago. Deal?

And so to the plot summary, which is pretty linear. Rotten Tomatoes:

“Gretta (Keira Knightley) and her long-time boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine) are college sweethearts and songwriting partners who decamp for New York when he lands a deal with a major label. But the trappings of his new-found fame soon tempt Dave to stray, and a reeling, lovelorn Gretta is left on her own. Her world takes a turn for the better when Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a disgraced record-label exec, stumbles upon her performing on an East Village stage and is immediately captivated by her raw talent. From this chance encounter emerges an enchanting portrait of a mutually transformative collaboration, set to the soundtrack of a summer in New York City.”

So there you have it. It’s about love, and music, and stuff.

One invariably essential ingredient for any film in this genre is charm. Oodles of it. We’ve got to be charmed out of our world-weary cynicism, charmed into suspending our disbelief and charmed into caring about the star-crossed fates of the protagonists. And also, charmed into believing that “happy ever after” is a realistic outcome in this vale of tears. That’s a supersize load of charm.

Most of the characters are charming enough, in their own ways. Ruffalo plays a good male lead, suffering just enough to make us care what happens, but stopping just this side of schmaltz.

Levine is, well... odd. But then, he’s a legitimate rock star (Maroon 5) so he’s simply playing to type.

But as for dear old Keira Knightley.... or Ikea Knightley, as one critic unkindly refers to her.

Well, I do have a bit of a problem with Keira.

And you know, it may be just me. But there’s something about Keira that... grates. Whatever she plays, she reminds me of a Head Girl (I have no idea what the American translation for that would be – anyone?).

Keira is highly capable, more than confident, very much the woman in charge. As one reviewer writes: “She's a well-spoken young English woman who can go back to "uni" if her adventures in the music business don't come off”.

And that’s the core problem with this movie. Ruffalo’s character is living on a knife edge, alcoholism and marital disaster on one the hand, career suicide on the other. He badly needs things to work out.

Keira? Well, she’s always got Plan B, hasn’t she?

The script doesn’t develop Keira’s role nearly as deeply as Ruffalo’s (that is hardly a new problem for female leads in Hollywood). So even more pressure on poor Keira to deliver a performance of exquisite vulnerability. And there, she falls short.

But you know what. I left the cinema feeling just that bit better than I was upon entering. This is not a great movie, heaven knows – but taken with a large glass of Chardonnay on a Friday evening, I ain’t complaining too much.
 
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