Begin Again is the type of film that flies under a lot of people’s radar, precisely because it’s a niche genre film that is perfectly adequate at what it’s trying to accomplish, but isn’t really amazing enough to garner a large following or achieve critical acclaim. This is a musical drama, where the plot takes a back seat to the music on display, and I’m not a music critic. I will say that I did think the songs were good, and if watching a 100-minute collection of soft rock music videos is your thing, I’d say that the film and its soundtrack album will likely be right up your alley. For the rest of us, Begin Again is an alright, if ultimately forgettable, time waster.
The film opens on a performance on guitar by Kiera Knightley (the character names don’t really matter) at an open mic night, and Mark Ruffalo notices her and begins enthusiastically applauding her. Through a flashback that will ultimately lead up to the open mic scene, we learn that Ruffalo is a recently fired producer who has become estranged from his wife and daughter and is looking for a way to break back into the music business. And then another flashback shows us Knightley’s humble beginnings as the girlfriend and songwriter for a soon-to-be breakout hit artist, who then non-consensually remixes her songs into pop hits and cheats on her with his producer. Ruffalo and Knightley decide to team up for an unprecedented outdoor-recorded album, and seek to prove to the world and themselves that they have what it takes to make great music.
This is about as corny as it sounds, but taking the film for what it is, it hits the beats pretty well. Those who know music will recognize Maroon 5’s Adam Levine as Knightley’s ex-boyfriend, as well as cameo appearances by Mos Def and CeeLo Green, so that’s a nice touch for its intended audience. However, if I’m going to make some technical quibbles about the film, the extended flashbacks that make up the first act of the film really don’t serve any purpose that telling the story in chronological order couldn’t serve. I understand that it ties in with the film’s title (beginning the story again, as it were), but if the symbolism doesn’t do anything to further the narrative, I don’t see why it’s necessary. Furthermore, there is some definite romantic chemistry between Ruffalo and Knightley, which I’m not sure was intentional given that the film never really deigns to explore it. It may have been meant to come off as a burgeoning friendship, and it certainly works as that, but the slow steady looks and a date-like montage really start to beg a question that the film wordlessly pushes under the rug.
But when all is said and done, the film’s plot really only serves as a skeleton to put the meaty musical numbers onto, and measuring by that metric, the film is largely a success. It’s not really my cup of tea, but I’m sure someone out there will be listening to this soundtrack on repeat for a few weeks at a time. Give this one a rental to see if you will too.
Have your own favorite musical drama? Let me know in the comments below.