The romantic comedy Begin Again, starring Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, and directed by John Carney, with appearances by Yasiin Bey and CeeLo Green, is a new take on the summer chick flick with a refreshing twist.
Ruffalo stars as Dan, a washed up music executive down on his luck. He drowns sorrows from his failed marriage and career in alcohol. Struggling to rise out of bed, he arrives late to pick up his daughter, and then stumbles into a meeting with business partner Saul (Yasiin Bey), who eventually fires him after an argument. Bar-hopping on the Lower East Side, he stumbles across a lovely young ingénue adorned in a granny blouse strumming her acoustic guitar before a small audience. Greta (Keira Knightley) becomes Dan's muse, as the tale weaves her broken love life into Dan's issues with a musical backdrop that shows life gained from literally beginning again. Knightley does her own singing in Begin Again.
“I did a film a couple of years ago called The Edge of Love where I sung a bit in that,” she said, when asked of her musical chops at a New York press event for Begin Again. “But it was a very 1940s sort of theatrical thing. So, very different. They got me some lessons with a very lovely man named Roger Love. We sat down and we did lots of scales. A lot of the songs, the lyrics weren’t written until a couple of days before we got into the studio. So, we didn’t have the songs until we actually got there. It was about trying to figure out what my voice was because I didn’t know.”
With a sweet, angelic voice that soothes the ear, she surprised everyone, even the cast and crew. “None of us knew, which was kind of funny,” added director John Carney. “None of us really knew how this was going to work. She went in and sang a few lines and we all had a big sigh of relief at this lovely warm voice and thought we could totally make this work.”
Knightley is refreshing as a female protagonist who doesn’t do what the audience expects her to do. She is the picture of the free spirited woman doing things her own way. Wonderful as the scorned lover and even better as the woman who discovers her own power, Knightley’s work and character enacts a change and ability to mold her world and influence the lives of others. This added to her on-screen chemistry with Mark Ruffalo, who was believable as the failed record executive. Messy hair, sloppy suit, down on luck, his angst over failed marital circumstances and a distant daughter all add to the character’s charm.
While superstar Adam Levine's realistic take on the self absorbed, douchebag, rock star boyfriend will cosign any past hate one may have already had for Levine music wise. This film helped solidify him as an actor who has the ability to carry emotions necessary for a solid performance. Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) cast as a stiff, money-hungry record executive, adds complete comedic irony in seeing him play the type of suit that in real life he's been so vocal about hating. While CeeLo's take on grandiose yet huggable rapper Troublegum, complete with a back-up band "yes-man" entourage, adds a light amount of funny that brings chuckles in sporadic spots.
The writing was great as the characters seemed to exude a life all their own through speech, inclinations and desires. Picturesque shooting angles brought the city of New York into the film as a character unto itself. Emotions displayed felt realistic and gritty, particularly in Greta’s conflict between her forgiving broken heart and attraction to potential love.
Heartfelt, romantic, and avoiding corny by any means necessary, The Shadow League gives Begin Again a B.