So… how are you all? It’s been a while hasn’t it? Sorry, I’m not so good at striking up a conversation with possibly many people that I have barely spoken/written to in months, but I’m going to have a bash at it, for my blog’s health as well as my own.
Looking upon my blog, I see that it has been barren of any real activity for too long. It’s almost been like walking along some long forgotten road while all the traffic speeds by on the nearby motorway; everything rushing by while I plod along without any guide, or any real notion of whether the path will end. But it ends today, the path of inactivity ends, however briefly, now and a smidgen of activity for this blog has been reached, having only been some vague point on the horizon before.
Well with that slightly awkward introduction out of the way let’s get onto the actual review of a film, with a very apt title considering (and before you say anything, yes it was a totally intentional choice!), Begin Again.
Begin Again centres on Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) as a New York record label executive who is struggling to live in the world of music where you need to be constantly remixing tracks and giving track-by-track explanation videos as well as living an estranged life from his family. This day starts particularly badly as he is fired from his job, in front of his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) no less, and goes on a drinking binge, leading him to an open mic bar.
Drinking his sorrows away, Dan sees Steve (James Corden) grab his friend Gretta James (Keira Knightley) to sing on stage. Although reluctant, she acquiesces and receives a monotone reception. Dan, even though drunk, sees Gretta’s potential and immediately asks her to make a record with him. Gretta refuses, intending to return to London after her boyfriend Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) cheated on her while rising as a successful musician. Yet, despite her misgivings, she eventually agrees and so embark to make an album without any label’s assistance, with New York as their recording studio.
Well with that obligatory overview out of the way, let’s get to the performances. Keira Knightley is one of those actresses that, while I know is good, is one where I find it hard to remember what films she’s been in. Until her frankly brilliant performance in The Imitation Game, I found it hard to name Knightley in a film outside of the obvious, i.e.: the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, the guilty pleasure of Bend it Like Beckham and the high-rated, but ultimately film equivalent of a shrug, Atonement and that was only because I’ve seen it recently.
But while Begin Again simply affirms her acting chops that she displayed in The Imitation Game, bringing charm and a certain warmth to her performance, what really made me sit up and take notice was her singing ability. She is surprisingly talented in that regard and, while I haven’t bought the soundtrack, I was certainly tempted.
Mark Ruffalo also puts in a good turn in the first memorable role of outside of turning green and smashing a puny god. You really bought his down and out persona, having being toppled from his precarious pinnacle of everything musical and discarded as quickly as an X Factor winner. Ruffalo and Knightley also had unexpectedly good chemistry, with him being the drunken voice of experience while Knightley exuded a newer way of thinking, especially over the branding of female artists which was refreshingly needed to be heard.
Indeed, at points it made you think, “Yeah, you go and record an album on the streets. Defy the musical hierarchy!” That is until you realise how stupid that sounds and that you’re eyeing up the soundtrack which was record in a studio, by a large company. So… yeah. Still good music though.
But the thing that irritated me was the pseudo-love these characters share. At one point in the film it appears Gretta and Dan are about to have a nightcap and, although Steve disturbs them, it never really becomes much of an issue again which irked me somewhat. The film had a whole thing about broken relationships but never really came to a satisfactory conclusion on it. I won’t spoil much, but to say how the pairings ended up only left me half-satisfied. But then again, I can’t have everything, which is a damn shame because I’d like that very much.
James Corden as Steve is pretty just James Corden with a guitar. Outside of Gavin and Stacey, I’m not much of a fan of his but he’s functional in this film. Indeed, he’s pretty much there as a plot device so that Gretta and Dan have the ability to record an album. So if you don’t like Corden, don’t worry and if you do, it’s OK, he’s there enough to be serviceable.
Adam Levine actually plays the douchetastic Dave Kohl remarkably well, considering this is his first film role. He seems to genuinely be under the spell of being a rock star and makes his conflict between musical integrity and superstardom quite real. While he does appear to murder some music, with it all being synthesised, remixed and mainly about doting on his female interests as “the best thing in the world”, you do get the sense that he at least knows of his conflict between being good and being successful.
But moving on, the real point of this film was the music so let’s sally forth right into that and most likely get hacked to bits. It flowed very well and, while I did get irritated at Adam Levine’s version of Keira Knightley’s supremely better version of Lost Stars, it wasn’t so bad to say that I would immediately flick over from it if it came up on the radio. I’ll pop a few links here and let you be the judges.
But what continually peeved me was that this film was so obsessive over making the record producers look, act, and occasion, look like complete arses. The way they acted reminded me of the villain in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In fact the film as a whole reminds me a wee but about this film. The whole notion of the preservation of the past is apparent in both films as, while Mitty being a product of a time gone by, working to develop camera film in the age of digitalisation; Begin Again uses the past being the concept of making good music that people will love rather than something people will buy quickly and forget even quicker with a load of gimmicky rubbish that no one wants. Especially track by track explanations; my god those are just a waste of everyone’s time.
But while I hope everyone agrees that making good music should be the top priority, the way the film throws scorn on the music industry seems to be too much of a black and white scenario, with the record producers firmly falling into the black abyss while the outsiders are heralded as musical pioneers of the old ways.
In the end, Begin Again is not a perfect film, with there being enough jagged edges to leave you feeling a little uncomfortable, but overall it is a pleasant experience. The music is well done and the whole feel of lifting a stiff middle finger to the music industry does get you feeling quite pumped up for the main characters. Just don’t expect that feeling to translate into anything corporeal.