Movie Review: Begin Again

Stories can lose their soul if edited too much. This is true regardless of the medium used—books, movies, music. It’s a struggle not to polish a piece so thoroughly that it loses its humanity, a truth told in the film Begin Again.

Dan used to be a successful music label executive, but he hasn’t adapted to changes in the industry. It’s not that he has nothing to choose from—demos are mailed to him every day. He just doesn’t want to pick up a bad record saturated in auto-tune.

The determination to live by his standards, not bowing to what’s popular, has gotten him in trouble. He hasn’t signed an artist in years. It’s having disastrous effects on his career, even changing the way his family sees him.

When the record company fires him, it kills what remained of his confidence. That night he finds himself at a bar, drinking away his misfortune. In this moment of crippling hopelessness, he overhears an acoustic performance that’ll change everything.

begin-again

Gretta (Keira Knightley!!) is a songwriter recovering from a difficult breakup. Prompted by a friend, she’s reluctantly gone onstage to play her latest creation. No one seems to be listening but Dan, who approaches her and asks if she would consider working with him.

He could get his job back. She could land a record deal. What really happens is healing: Dan and Gretta are both lost souls, but help each other back up.

The songs alone are interesting, because they’re recorded on the streets of New York where life can be heard—this includes traffic, people, angry pedestrians. It created a sensation of music roaming the sidewalks, filling people with life.

Though Gretta’s songs are powerful, I had to check online to make sure Keira Knightley was singing. It was just bizarre to see her behind a microphone. People have criticized her voice, but I thought it lovely, the lyrics human enough to draw me in.

Begin Again teaches that art shouldn’t look or sound the same. It reminds us not to give up on our passions. Human feelings will capture hearts, time and time again. And we should not compromise who we are if it leads to unhappy success.

If we’re passionate about something, we ought to be careful. Some paths promise happiness, but will only make us drag our feet.

This story celebrating honest art made me contemplate my motives. Do I write because I love it, or for the sake of an audience? Would I compromise my story’s soul for the sake of a larger number? Am I going to follow trends I don’t like, just to make a name for myself?

These are questions all storytellers should ask. It’s tempting to follow crowded paths to success, but remember—we might forget the sound of our own voices, trying to mimic others.

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5 Comments

  1. I loved the movie! I think nowadays everyone is looking for something HUGE: an explosion, a proposal, a death. But people are made up of small things and I think this movie illustrated that really well. It was quiet yet very impactful and meaningful.

    1. That is such a good point. I think we’ve lost sight of what makes a human story – little things that really matter – and when there isn’t an explosion, it catches us off-guard, the film is often received badly. But to viewers, it’s refreshing to see the small things celebrated.

  2. I really liked this film as I felt all the characters were genuine and it was brilliantly directed by John Carney. If you enjoyed this you will love his new film Sing Street, another really nice film.

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