with Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, James Corden, Catherine Keener, Hailee Steinfeld, Ceelo Green, Mos Def, and a whole lot of other convincing supporting players.
Sharing a tone and plot line with those Mickey Rooney – Judy Garland movies where some talented musicians decide to put on a show, Begin Again stars Mark Ruffalo as Dan, a professional music producer whose star has fallen so low he is on the skids, driving his old Jaguar around town in a drunken stupor. The company he co-founded is not amused at his not having come up with a hit in over five years.
One drunken night he hears an amateurish heartbroken singer, Gretta (Knightley), as she is performing in a bar, and becomes determined to produce her music. Like Rooney and Garland, Ruffalo and Knightley gather a winning team who bring heft to the rather negligible music, and decide to record an album using the city as their production studio. This involves recording songs at key locations where the Empire State Building can be used as a backdrop for instance.
The spirit of the effort, and the humor of Gretta’s friend Steve (played by James Corden,) make the movie tolerable. Other strengths include Adam Levine, Knightley’s unfaithful love interest who really can sing, and a guitar solo by Steinfeld which is very rousing.
The biggest weakness is the music, mostly written by Gregg Alexander. When Gretta and Dan go through their favorite playlists, and we get to hear Frank Sinatra singing “Luck be a Lady Tonight,” or Stevie Wonder sing “For Once In My Life,” we are reminded how far below that songwriting standard the tunes in this movie are, but how popular music forms the soundtrack to our lives, and gives certain key moments a more poignant meaning.
Mos Def, Ceelo Green and Catherine Keener lend the picture a bit of authenticity. The movie is not a love story, but at one point it is hard not to be cheering for Dan and Gretta whose chemistry is good, but whose recently unfaithful partners still appeal to them. The optimistic tone and superb supporting cast buoy the enterprise along. Ruffalo and Knightley both have a certain physical charisma. Their voices are distinctive and seductive. Their performances convince you that a love of music and collaboration is enough of a reason to make a movie.