What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Begin Again is an affecting quasi-musical from the director/writer of Once about how music can be a salve to wounded personalities. The central character, Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a music exec who's clearly battling an alcohol problem, and his transformation is the centerpiece of the movie (alongside the metamorphosis of a young woman who changes from being known as the girlfriend of her famous boyfriend into a musical talent in her own right). Dan is shown drinking, sometimes while driving, and appears rudderless after being fired. The movie's themes -- forgiveness, artistic integrity, infidelity -- may be somewhat heavy for tweens and younger, and there's lots of strong language (including "s--t" and "f--k"), but teens will love the music and spotting artists they've come to know, including Adam Levine and Cee-Lo.
What's the story?
Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo) is the founder of a record label and a former producer with a drinking problem who finds himself adrift after losing his touch -- and eventually his job -- in BEGIN AGAIN. His teenage daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) hates him, and his estranged wife (Catherine Keener) is tired of being disappointed. Then he walks into a bar and sees a clearly upset Gretta (Keira Knightley) singing onstage, armed with a perfect, soulful melody and lyrics to match. She just got her heart stomped by her longtime musician boyfriend (Adam Levine), who told her that he'd fallen in love with someone else. Dan realizes that Gretta is an undiscovered talent who could provide him a ticket back to success. Together, they bring her music to life, making a demo album on the streets of NYC, fueled by inspiration but not much funding or institutional support, each searching for reinvention and finding more.
Is it any good?
Filmmaker John Carney loves to bring together characters at the nexus of loss and possibility, which he did brilliantly with his music-heavy debut, Once. In Begin Again, he recaptures some -- but not all -- of the same magic by telling a similar story about another pair who find each other at just the moment when their lives are at their most chaotic and they're in sore need of inspiration and human connection. First, what works: Ruffalo is the emotional anchor of the film, grounding Dan in palpable vulnerability. His scenes are moving, especially when they include Steinfeld as a daughter aching for a father who will be present. And the rest of the cast -- even Levine, who's moonlighting here from his gig with Maroon 5 -- mostly keeps up with Ruffalo and Steinfeld.
But it still feels like a re-tread of Once. It's fun, but it's a mite too familiar. And for a movie in which the music is so crucial, there aren't too many songs that will really stay with the audience (except perhaps "Lost Stars," which is a stand-out); they get the job done, but they don't transport you. Knightley has a pretty voice, but it lacks the depth and heft of a seasoned musician. (No wonder the energy shifts when Levine takes the stage, showing how a performance can electrify.) Still, Begin Again captures the thrill of finding out that you've been given a second chance ... alongside the bittersweet pain of meeting someone who touches your soul but may just be passing through.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how Begin Again portrays drinking. Dan clearly has a problem with alcohol. How does the movie address it? Are there realistic consequences? Does it prevent him from being a good father?
The film includes lots of music and uses it to explore its themes. How is it similar to and different from other music-heavy movies?
Are the main characters role models? Why or why not?