"Begin Again" is one of the most unromantic romantic comedies in recent memory.
There's little romancing, but lots of talking about romance, and plenty of singing about romance in "Begin Again."
The film is of chief interest for the performance of its star, Keira Knightley, who finally breaks free of her bodice-bound costume drama roles, namely those in "Anna Karenina" (2012),"The Duchess" (2008), "Silk" (2007), "Atonement" (2007), "Pride & Prejudice" (2005) and "King Arthur"(2004).
It turns out that Knightley can be spontaneous, down-to-earth and act in a very naturalistic, believable way, not always the case with the historic dramas in which she has starred.
Knightley has also been in the three "Pirates of the Caribbean" blockbuster movies and has had roles in contemporary, smaller-budget films, so the potential has been there for a role that captures her vivacious yet reserved British charm.
"Begin Again," which has the sense of an indie production, is that film.
Knightley can also sing, in a clear, engaging soprano, which she's required to do, and which she does often, in "Begin Again."
It helps that the songs she sings, with some sung by Adam Levine, are well-written (mostly by John Carney, Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois and Nick Lashley).
In "Begin Again," Knightley plays Gretta, an aspiring singer-songwriter best known for her collaboration with her boyfriend, Dave (Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and TV's "The Voice").
One night at a Greenwich Village, New York City tavern, the open mic host Steve (James Cordon) badgers her to go up on stage where she sings and plays one of her songs.
Dan (Mark Ruffalo), who has just been fired from his record company by his partner, Saul (Yaslin Bey, aka Mos Def), is in the audience and is immediately smitten with her talent. He wants to record and produce Gretta's songs.
Dan is estranged from his wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and is a sometimes dad to their teen daughter Violet (Hailee Steinfeld).
Dan persuades Gretta to record her songs outdoors in New York City, financed by none other than CeeLo Green (as himself), a member of the hip-hop group, Gnarls Barkley, and also on TV's "The Voice."
"Begin Again" Irish writer-director John Carney revisits some of the same territory he did in the film, "Once" (2006), which was filmed with two digital camcorders in three weeks.
"Once" received an Oscar and a Grammy for the song, "Falling Slowly." "Once" became a hit off-Broadway and Broadway musical, with 11 Tony nominations, receiving eight Tonys, including one for musical (2012).
Carney uses a clever flashback technique at the film's beginning to start the story. And the film's on-location scenes of concerts on the rooftop, on Central Park lake and in Washington Square, are like a New York City visit without traffic jams and pedestrian crush.
Carney gets a wonderful performance from Knightley. Ruffalo, as the slapdash, profanity-spewing (too much for this reviewer), cigarette-smoking, curly haired music producer, gives another of his seamless performances.
"Begin Again" will be enjoyed by music fans, and also fans of Knightley, Ruffalo and Levine.
The film provides some insights into the cut-throat world of the music business, where golden-throated singers are led like lambs to the slaughter after their talents are sheared for all their worth.
"Begin Again" is a minor classic in the key of G, that's Gee, Major.
"Begin Again," MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for language; Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music Romance; Run Time: 1 hr., 44 min.; Distributed by The Weinstein Company.
Credit Readers Anonymous: Additional scenes are included in the "Begin Again" closing credits.
This column is dedicated to James Garner (1928 - 2014).
Box Office, July 18: "Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes" hung on handily at No. 1, $36 million, $139 million, two weeks, purging three opening movies from top-spot potential: 2. "The Purge: Anarchy," $28.4 million; 3. "Planes: Fire & Rescue," $18 million; and 4. "Sex Tape," $15 million;
5. "Transformers: Age of Extinction," $10 million, $227.2 million, four weeks; 6. "Tammy," $7.6 million, $71.3 million, three weeks; 7. "22 Jump Street," $4.7 million, $180.5 million, six weeks; 8. "How To Train Your Dragon 2," $3.8 million, $160.7 million, six weeks; 9. "Maleficent," $3.3 million, $228.4 million, eight weeks; 10. "Earth To Echo," $3.3 million, $32 million, three weeks;
Unreel, July 25:
"Hercules," Bethlehem Area School District product Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars as the legendary Greek God in the action-adventure film.
"Lucy," Luc Besson directs Scarlett Johansson as a woman who turns the tables on her captors in the sci-fi action film. Morgan Freeman co-stars.
"Magic In The Moonlight," Woody Allen directs Emma Stone and Colin Firth in the romantic comedy about an Englishman and a swindle.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and wdiy.org, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: email@example.com. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.
Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes