Washed-up record company executive Mark Ruffalo hooks up with wary singer-songwriter Keira Knightley to make sweet music in Begin Again, an utterly charming comedy-drama from writer-director John Carney, whose scrappy low-budget word-of-mouth hit Once won a Best Song Oscar and spawned a successful Broadway and West End show.
That film saw Glen Hansard’s Irish busker and Marketa Irglova’s Czech immigrant overcome heartbreak by making music together on the streets of Dublin and Carney’s new leads are another emotionally bruised odd couple at sea in the city, here New York.
Ruffalo’s boozy Dan has lost his wife (Catherine Keener), daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) and business; Knightley’s diffident English visitor Gretta is being left behind as the career of her pop star boyfriend (Adam Levine from Maroon 5) takes off.
Uninterested in stardom herself, she’s coaxed by her ex-pat musician friend Steve (a winning James Corden) to perform one of her songs at an open-mic night. Dan, in the audience, hears potential in her slender ballad and eventually talks her into recording her music with him.
This they do, guerrilla-style on the streets of New York with a motley pick-up band of musicians, roping in local kids to sing backing vocals in one location, scarpering from the cops in another.
These are among the film’s most beguiling sequences. Another has the pair roaming the Manhattan streets listening together through a headphone splitter to an eclectic mix of music, including Frank Sinatra’s ‘Luck Be Lady’, Stevie Wonder’s ‘For Once in My Life’ and Dooley Wilson’s ‘As Time Goes By’.
Gretta’s own songs aren’t the type to grab you by the throat, but performed with soulful sweetness by Knightley they slowly sink their hooks into you, just like the film itself.
Certificate 15. Runtime 104 mins. Director John Carney.
Released on DVD & Blu-ray by Entertainment One on Monday 10th November.