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Begin Again, I Want To Be A Part Of It

New York, New York. There is a delightful sequence in Begin Again (written and directed by John Carney), were Dan (Mark Ruffalo) and Greta (Keira Knightley) re-explore the great outdoors of the city as they listen each other’s phone music playlists via a two-way headphone jack. It is night-time and New York is lit vibrantly the way only New York is. Almost immediately prior to that scene however, I was blissfully aware how this movie allows you to explore the small neighborhoods, alleys where kids play, and the rooftops of the Big Apple. And with the often crammed, lived-in, and cosy interiors it certainly makes for a homely New York.

And it is a Brit, Keira Knightley, who seems to be at home here, even though her character is eager to leave at the start and head back home. In fact, Knightley is very well suited to this tomboy, makeupless girl, and away from costume drama / Chanel ads we see more often. This is a Keira Knightley I can get on board with – her rough around the edges, but completely charming, vocal performance only enhances her appeal.

Opposite her then, is Mark Ruffalo, is an actor I have always enjoyed watching. And I believe he is still a little underrated, he is a better actor than he gets credit for – you don’t have to look too closely to see that he often appears to enjoying acting. There is a swagger and a charisma to Ruffalo, and not sure he has employed those much better than he has here. We wrongly make the same negative judgements about the character of Dan that Greta makes, but we gladly embrace his his frank and personal admissions.

His daughter Violet, played by Hailee Steinfeld, helps feed that assumption of a hopeless man in the opening scenes. Dan has his regrets, and is is currently is a weary place, but it takes for him to be out-witted by his teenage daughter to see a part of where he can do right. Violet is not exactly unruly or troublesome, but like her father, wants to be seen and/or saved. Steinfeld has without doubt got that acting thing down {exceptional in True Grit}, but her great scene is when she is given the opportunity to play guitar with the band. Allowed to hang out with the grown-ups, you almost pray Violet doesn’t embarrass herself (because, like her silly father, we don’t know she is talented yet), and instead she makes you proud. The moment becomes an emotive and warming reality.

There’s genuine tenderness, honesty, and loyalty to emotion and open interaction in the way the characters bond in this movie. I found myself caring and being moved by what they did and how they reacted to each other. That may sound obvious or unimportant, but so often movies neglect to show us how characters truly bounce off each other in this way, that we give a shit, and feel it. The chemistry between Knightley and Ruffalo is so familiar you have to wonder how many times they’ve acted together before. But to be fair they are all great. Adam Levine (yes, from the band Maroon 5) pops in and out as rock star and douche Dave Krohl, and James Corden as Greta’s best friend and rock Steve – both also make fitting contributions to the ensemble.

The movie, though, is about music. An appreciation of music (a bit like but not at all like last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis). Music in Begin Again drives and delivers a lot of the emotions and the actions. And what enraptures you is that it does in the way that life does. Music shows us things we wanted to forget, or it tells us what we yearn to remember. Music brings people together, and it keeps you company when you are alone. In a movie about a bunch of musicians playing live across various outdoor venues of New York, it is a real asset than the narrative does not need halting for a song – it feels much more a part of it. I’m a sucker for a good movie and a sucker for good music, so it is great for me that the music played here is, like film, right up my street. Time to update my Spotify playlist.


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