Recapturing music’s raw and naked purity

A story of passion for music and life

Begin Again

I’ve probably seen Mark Ruffalo in over a dozen movies but I’d be hard put to name even one of them off the top of my head. He has a face – and an acting style – that could pass in a crowd. But hopefully that will all change with this charming movie. They’ve roughed him up (Mark Roughalo?) to make him look more three-dimensional than usual.

His marriage has broken down. He has a drink problem. And he loses his job with the record company he set up in the dim and distant past. Can things get any worse?

On a night when he feels he has nothing left to live for he hears novice singer/songwriter Keira Knightley performing in a rundown New York bar and becomes so entranced with her it gives him back not only his passion for music but also for life.

He’s broke but he offers her a record deal – a decidedly unorthodox one. To make an album they take to the streets like buskers, recruiting backing musicians from anywhere and everywhere, including Ruffalo’s own daughter. She bonds with Knightley in a relationship that seems to pave the way towards a possible reconciliation with his estranged wife.

Will he go back to her or will he fall for Knightley? Or will Knightley try and repair a relationship of her own that’s fallen apart because of a cheating boyfriend? The way all these loose strands come together – or don’t  – avoids all the pat cliched endings of most Hollywood films. 

The language isn’t of the Sunday School variety but overall it exudes a very warm atmosphere. You find yourself rooting for Ruffalo to get his life back on track and to tell the big shots in the music business who worship the almighty dollar what to do with themselves.

On a different level it’s like a kind of love note to New York in the same way as Woody Allen’s Manhattan was. There’s always something interesting going on in the background of scenes, giving them a documentary feel. You get the impression the people walking (or cycling, or dancing) up and down aren’t extras but just there.

This increases its authenticity, its push towards individualism – which is of course what it’s all about anyway. Writer/director John Carney has kept things real throughout. Knightley also sings instead of lip-synching. It’s refreshing to see England’s answer to Audrey Hepburn finally outgrowing all those bodice-rippers and Jane Austen adaptations to kickstart part two of her career.

Or should I say to ‘begin again’.

**** Excellent