Film Review: “Begin Again” finds a great ending for a new beginning


Keira Knightley in "Begin Again." Courtesy of the Weinstein Company
Keira Knightley in “Begin Again.” Courtesy of the Weinstein Company

Free up your Friday evening, because the musical comedy, “Begin Again,” is a sweet, chuckle-worthy film that is sure to delight you.

Written and directed by John Carney, the film focuses on a young musician, Greta (Keira Knightley), who has recently been left by her boyfriend, Dave Kohl (Adam Levine), a rising star in the music industry.

Soon after their breakup, a miserable Greta crosses paths with ex-record executive Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), who, being newly unemployed and estranged from his wife and his daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld), is equally distressed. When Dan listens to Greta perform at a local pub, he is overjoyed. Believing he has finally found new talent, he gives her his business card, and they begin their journey together towards getting Greta her break in the music industry.

Besides Knightley, Ruffalo and Levine, the film also features James Corden as Greta’s best friend and Cee Lo Green as Dan’s former client. Star-studded films such as these generally fall into one of two categories: strokes of genius (think “Love Actually”) or cringe-worthy (“Valentine’s Day”).

“Begin Again” firmly establishes itself as the former.

Courtesy of the Weinstein Company.
Courtesy of the Weinstein Company.

While its cliché premise might delude you into believing that a sappy film awaits you, the second half of the film, particularly the ending, is full of surprises. But yes, there are indeed a couple of eye-rolling moments along the way and a few moments where cheesiness is narrowly avoided.

For instance, when Greta advises Dan’s daughter, Violet, to “leave a little to the imagination” regarding her revealing apparel, Greta then offers to take Violet shopping for more conservative clothing. A female bonding scene at the mall? Good lord. Thankfully, however, we are spared the actual shopping, an utterly tired cliché.

In its early stages, the film looks at familial relations and questions the integrity of today’s artists before ultimately becoming a story about compassion, forgiveness and moving on.

For the most part, the characters are interesting and relevant to today’s day and age. Dave, like many artists who top the charts today, is a sellout. He changes his music from soulful to shallow for fame’s sake. Levine, who plays Dave, is surprisingly good in his first film role and there are only a few moments in which he seems uncomfortable. Of course, playing a character with the same profession as him likely made Levine’s job a whole lot easier.

Knightley, who plays Greta, performs exceptionally. She effortlessly portrays a sweet and ethical young musician. Her character is warm but also stubborn, particularly when it comes to upholding the integrity of her music. Knightley’s acting is neither forced nor awkward; she comes across as genuine. Meanwhile, with his goofy grin and clumsy manner, Ruffalo is a pleasure to watch as an endearing and overwhelmed father.

Hailee Steinfeld and Mark Ruffalo in "Begin Again." Courtesy of the Weinstein Company.
Hailee Steinfeld and Mark Ruffalo in “Begin Again.” Courtesy of the Weinstein Company.

The film’s soundtrack, which features Levine, Green and Knightley, is slightly disappointing considering the nature of the film. That is not to say that the soundtrack takes away from the movie; it just does not add much to it. Its range is limited, but the singers are talented and Knightley is not half bad as a singer.

The film’s overarching theme of forgiveness is illustrated through Greta and Dan, and their relationships with their exes. Telling you any more will spoil your fun. “Begin Again” is a light-hearted, feel-good movie with engaging characters, a decent plot and a charm that is hard to match.

And when the credits roll and Ruffalo smiles, you will smile with him.

“Begin Again” is now playing at the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto at Emerson and University.

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