"I'm a producer because I don't play bass, baby!"
Dan (Mark Ruffalo)
Carney's concept is a cute one and he handles the storyline well, rarely allowing it to seep into overt saccharine and the story plays out in a gentle bonhomie that is all the more rare in film these days. Carney's use of natural light and handheld camerawork adds a distinct air of authenticity that worked so well in his previous film, and it works just as well here (it is a style of film making that I hope to use myself in my current project). In fact, it could be fair to criticize Carney for playing it a little too close to Once at times. This is most evident when the film deals with the potential love story between the leads. In Begin Again, Dan has an estranged wife (Catherine Keener) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld, cornering the market in the "Daughter with Absent Father" category after Three Days To Kill), Gretta has a successful ex-boyfriend (Maroon 5's Adam Levine). In Once, Glen Hansard's Guy had an ex-girlfriend in London while Markéta Irglová's Girl had a husband back in the Czech Republic. The main difference is that in Once Carney set the love story at the heart of the film - here the possible love affair is more on the sidelines. This does leave us suspecting that it was more an afterthought than an integral part of the story. Not that this matters too much, as Ruffalo and Knightley have enough genuine chemistry to make the possible flickers in the heart believable to the audience.
If there are weaknesses, they lie in the film's structure (an over-reliance on flashback that could have been fixed creatively in the edit suite) and, it is sad to say, the music. Now don't misinterpret this - the songs themselves are superb (the songs include input from Carney himself as well as former Frames bandmate Hansard). And Knightley should be commended for bravely tackling them in her singing debut. It is a shame then that her voice is limited, both in range and in power. Her breathy tones are serviceable enough, but the emotional heft is lacking a little - especially when the raw intensity and feeling that Hansard & Irglová brought to Once still lingers in the memory. It is difficult to avoid the comparisons, and in that key area Begin Again does lose out by comparison... But only just.