It has been 10 months since I first began raving about Can a Song Change Your Life?, telling just about anyone who would listen about a cinema antidote to the coarseness that so regularly dulls our big screens (BW, Cobweb, "Can a Song Change Your Life?" Sept. 12, 2013).
Forget I ever said that. It never happened. Erase that from your memory.
Instead, let me tell you about Begin Again, my favorite film of Summer 2014, which looks, sounds, feels exactly like Can a Song Change Your Life?, probably because they are the same film. I actually had to dust off my September 2013 notes from the film's Toronto world premiere, and to no surprise, I saw that I had written, "I struggled so much with the title."
Can a song change your life? Let's think abut that for a second. There's always another song. And another after that, and another, and, in no time, you have a dozen songs that you can't live without.
But there are very few movies like Begin Again, with so much gentility yet so little pretension while delivering a highly original story and an instantly memorable soundtrack. It's the latest work from Irish writer-director John Carney, who graced us with 2007's Oscar winner Once, set in Dublin. But this time, we're in New York City, where Dave (played with supreme douchebaggery by pop star Adam Levine) has dumped girlfriend Greta (played with supreme charm by Keira Knightley) after the two co-wrote a major musical success for which Dave took all the credit. Greta ends up singing in a sketchy nightclub that has more "night" than "club" going for it. And in walks Dan, a guy who has seen better days and a lot better nights.
Dan is played by Mark Ruffalo. That's right; Mark Ruffalo, in a musical film. I know; right? Begin Again also includes indie film goddess Catherine Keener, the delicious Cee Lo Green and the prolific Mos Def. Intrigued yet?
Ruffalo's Dan is a washed-up record producer (who hasn't washed in days), whose life changes when he hears Greta sing the heartbreak-inspired "Lost Stars"--trust me, you'll hear the song performed at next year's Oscars. But when Dan hears a song, he listens differently from the rest of us--a simple guitar melody becomes a fully orchestrated version of the song in Dan's mind. Inspired, he convinces Greta and friend Steve (the wonderfully oversized leprechaun James Corden) to participate in something rather natural: using New York City's unnatural wonders, such as sidewalks, alleys and subway platforms as soundstages for an inspired concept album. There is more than a passing resemblance to director Carney's Once, another inspired musical, and trust me, that's a good thing.
To be sure, Begin Again has moments that are more sincere than real, but it's a musical. And the soundtrack has already burned up my mp3 player. But a word of caution before you rush to iTunes: Please see the film first, so when you hear the songs later, the music will evoke vivid memories of how it was recorded.
Can a song change your life? Probably not. OK... maybe.