I fully expected to loathe Begin Again. Its trailer indicated that the film was set to contain all of the elements of a rom-com that I despise: saccharine sentimentality and an ill-adjusted young woman needing a man to help her find herself, all set to a backdrop of overly tender songs.
Begin Again, despite it’s marketing, is in actuality nothing of the sort. Yes, there are of course moments or set-pieces (such as a band recording a song on a busy subway platform) that belie reality and yet, these moments are made permissible through the well-judged narrative and the subtle acting.
Keira Knightley stars as Greta, a reticent but quietly confident songwriter who is in New York after her boyfriend and songwriting partner Dave (Adam Levine) is signed to a record company. As Dave rapidly becomes enamored with the trappings of fame he and Greta begin to drift apart and after she discovers that Dave has cheated on her, they break up. Greta, before returning home to England is persuaded to sing at an open mic night by her best friend (James Corden) who is too a musician hoping to attract the attention of a record label.
Greta’s performance, whilst dismissed by the majority of the bar in which she performs, captures the attention of Dan (Mark Ruffalo) a music executive who has that very day been fired from his own company. Dan explains to Greta both his vision for her music as well as his current employment situation. The pair together, after performing for Dan’s previous business partner, create a demo recruiting a range of musicians to record Greta’s music in a variety of locations around New York, hoping to take in the sounds of the city around them.
If this was a standard romantic comedy, Dan and Greta would inevitably provide the conventional love interest, and yet this film is not interested in focusing on a relationship. Greta, despite her initial reluctance to agree to Dan’s ideas, is a well-adjusted confident young women who demonstrates strong convictions throughout: she doesn’t require a man to help her realise her vision, she knows exactly what her music is and how it can succeed. Dan is estranged from his wife, but it is made apparent early on that there is still affection between the two, similarly, he struggles to relate to his daughter, but it is still clear that he is a good father who merely needs to make some adjustments in his life.
The film is infused with genuine charm, Knightley, certainly has her detractors, but she seems to have found a new found confidence here that results in an entirely beguiling performance. Mark Ruffalo too, is as reliable as ever as a man who is able to rediscover his love of music. Even James Corden, an actor who I usually find entirely abrasive, is likeable as Greta’s supportive friend. Perhaps it was merely the mood that I was in at the time, but I found Begin Again perfectly serviceable and disarmingly charming.