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Ken Morefield and I saw this at TIFF when it was still called CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE?, which, while unwieldy, I think is still a more interesting title.

 

This is one where a lot of folks mileage is going to vary. I can see people rolling their eyes at some of it, but I had a big grin on my face for lots of this. Ruffalo really sells the film and Kiera Knightley is very good.

 

My TIFF review:

 

 

One of the challenges of a festival like TIFF can be sorting your own signal from the noise on social media platforms. It’s particularly easy to have the glut of varying opinions cause you to second-guess a warm first impression of a film. Still, I think the best course is to report on one’s own honest reaction to a film. In the case of Can a Song Save Your Life?, from Once director John Carney, my reaction was unabashedly positive, even if on the surface the story of the film sounds crazy clichéd.

 

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I really, really liked it.
 
My Letterboxd review:
 

My biggest complaint with Begin Again doesn't even concern the film itself. The only major criticism I have is the title. The filmmakers should have stuck with the original: Can a Song Save Your Life. While that title does have a certain degree of awkward cheesiness to it, it fits the film perfectly. For one, the film itself has some awkwardly cheesy moments, and secondly, the film is not about starting over but instead about one moment, one person, or one song that can completely change the direction of one's life.
 
However, I have no intention to hold a bland generic title against any film, and Begin Again is an absolute joy from start to finish, even during the parts that don't work quite as well as others. I think a few more of the songs should have been diegetic rather than underscoring, and as much as I love Casablanca, having Keira Knightley call "As Time Goes By" her favorite movie song was weird, especially when there were so many choices that would have better reflected the conflict of the film. I was personally hoping she would say "The Rainbow Connection." However, it is also pointless to hold that against the film. While director John Carney does not quite recapture the intimate magic of Once, he comes close.
...
Other than making a good album, Begin Again follows none of [the expected genre] clichés. It is refreshing how original and lifelike this film is. There are no elaborate deceptions, no awkward unbelievable romance subplots, no standard setbacks threatening the success of everything that was undertaken. All the characters are totally believable, and the storyline follows a natural path for human beings who are committed to their work and behave with decency while struggling with some flaws.
...
Like Once, Begin Again is about a once in a lifetime opportunity for decent, empathetic human beings to pursue their art and make something unique and magical with it. While on the journey, the characters' enthusiasm and diligence for their art carries over into other aspects of their lives. There is no tense drama or overblown indecision, but rather quiet moments of grace and generosity that are touching and inspiring in their direct simplicity.

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Just saw this, and found it to be a delightful companion to Carney's Once. The parallels between the films are quite strong, but that's not necessarily a weakness--both are refreshing portrayals of artists finding a transcendent link through the creation of music. The characters feel authentic and original without slipping into common tropes, and the songs are charming and accessible. Begin Again could be included in Overstreet's "2014 Looking Closer Beauty Pageant." Keira Knightly gives a wonderful performance as Greta, a strong-yet-wounded young artist who holds fast to her principles and femininity, but without feeling like she has a chip on her shoulder or something to prove. Didn't even know she could sing, but it's definitely her on the soundtrack, and she's quite good.

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Very briefly: I enjoyed it a lot. Almost as much as when I saw it earlier this summer, when it was called Chef. (It is much more Chef than Once.) More later. 

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Very briefly: I enjoyed it a lot. Almost as much as when I saw it earlier this summer, when it was called Chef. (It is much more Chef than Once.) More later.

Yes, I was thinking it had more in common with Chef than it did with Once.  However, I have to give Begin Again the edge over Chef.

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Very briefly: I enjoyed it a lot. Almost as much as when I saw it earlier this summer, when it was called Chef. (It is much more Chef than Once.) More later.

Yes, I was thinking it had more in common with Chef than it did with Once.  However, I have to give Begin Again the edge over Chef.

 

Well, this just makes me want to see Chef.

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I had some quibbles here and there with the story (in it's construction), but the various scenes of music with their celebration of music, were alive, moving, important and soaring.  I wouldn't give this film the edge over Chef when it comes to story, but again, those scenes with the music created throughout New York (and some other music scenes) were really really great.

Edited by Attica

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Chris Willman, former music writer for Entertainment Weekly, had some dismissive things to say about the film when he saw it a while ago -- comments along the lines of "anyone who knows how the music industry *actually* works will be rolling their eyes" -- and that was the first response to the film that I saw, so it's interesting to see all these more-positive reactions now.

 

Personally, the trailers and clips have just reminded me how distracting Keira Knightley's facial mannerisms can be, and not in a good way.

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Very briefly: I enjoyed it a lot. Almost as much as when I saw it earlier this summer, when it was called Chef. (It is much more Chef than Once.) More later.

Yes, I was thinking it had more in common with Chef than it did with Once.  However, I have to give Begin Again the edge over Chef.

Well, this just makes me want to see Chef.

 

Just to be clear that it wasn't a thoughtless comparison: In my book, Chef > Begin Again.

 

Main reason: The role of the son in Chef is split between two characters in Begin Again (Keira Knightley and Hailee Steinfeld), weakening the central relationship. I love Chef precisely as a father-son movie, whereas Begin Again is not in the same way a father-daughter movie. The father-daughter dynamic is fairly minor in a movie where Dad could have spent all his time repairing that particular relationship, and it wouldn't have been too much.

Edited by SDG

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I agree that the father/child relationship is definitely stronger and more central to the film in Chef than in Begin Again.  However, I think Begin Again has a more convincing portrayal of the protagonist hitting bottom.  Dan being fired, which served as the catalyst for him meeting Greta, felt more convincing than Carl's epic meltdown that served as the catalyst for the cross country journey with his son.  As to which journey of reparation one prefers, I suspect that depends on whether the music production in Begin Again or the cooking in Chef speaks more strongly to you.  Personally, I found the power of art to transform and improve our lives more convincingly portrayed in Begin Again.  For instance, the first two musical numbers are the same song.  We hear it first as a simple guitar and voice track, then after flashing back to see how Dan's life has fallen apart, we hear it again.  This time it's the fully orchestrated version he's hearing in his head.  It's still the same song, and it preserves the vulnerable, unpolished quality that gave the song its initial power, but the art has transformed into something that will reach many and also touch the lives of those involved with its creation.  Chef powerfully covers the second, the ability of cooking to touch many lives: both those of the consumer and the artist, but I don't think the art itself ever undergoes the transformation that the music does in Begin Again.

 

Sure, that's mostly because cooking and producing music are different.  But I really appreciate that specific detail which Begin Again brings to the creation process.

 

I enjoyed Chef a lot, but I was grinning ear to ear throughout most of Begin Again.

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I agree that the father/child relationship is definitely stronger and more central to the film in Chef than in Begin Again.  However, I think Begin Again has a more convincing portrayal of the protagonist hitting bottom.   Dan being fired, which served as the catalyst for him meeting Greta, felt more convincing than Carl's epic meltdown that served as the catalyst for the cross country journey with his son. 

 

Whereas for me another story about a boozy wash-up sliding into failure was much less interesting than the cascade of professional pressures and social-media fails that brought down Carl. Carl's relationship with Dustin Hoffman is nuanced and compelling; Mark Ruffalo's relationship with Mos Def, not so much, to me. Ditto Carl's early relationship with his ex-wife and kid versus Ruffalo's with his. (Though I have to say I did love that brief moment in Begin Again where Ruffalo in the shower flirts with his ex-wife, and you can see her hesitate for just a second.) 

 

And whatever you think of Carl's epic meltdown, I like the ambiguity of it (he probably has a point; whatever valid critical insights Oliver Platt may have, his criticism of the lava cake probably was off base) better than "This is my artwork," etc. The artist-critic relationship, and the way a hostile critique (even a potentially somewhat unfair critique) can have a salutary effect on an artist's work, by pushing him outside his comfort zone. No one is more daringly creative than a spurned artist with something to prove. 

 

As to which journey of reparation one prefers, I suspect that depends on whether the music production in Begin Again or the cooking in Chef speaks more strongly to you.

 

Well, music is more cinematic than food, or cinema captures completely what music has to offer in a way it can't begin to do with food, so there's that. 

 

And I will give Begin Again this: I loved Ruffalo's drunken imaginary "arrangement" of Keira's song, as contrived and corny as that scene is. (He's a desperate music mogul dumped by the record company he founded. She's a struggling musician dumped by her cad of a boyfriend who she helped catapult to stardom. He's spent five years weeding through demos from eager would-be stars searching for that next unique voice. She doesn't even want to take the open mike at a Manhattan bar. What are the chances...?)

 

But I found the food truck a far more powerful device than outdoor guerrilla music production. The food truck is a metaphor for being willing to take a big step back, for embracing something simpler humbler than, perhaps even humiliating in comparison to, the tokens of more conventional success, but in doing so finding a path to greater authenticity. 

 

So many movies give us characters who learn to appreciate a life that is simpler or more authentic over more conventional success -- but most of the time these movies are phony as the day is long. The filmmakers condescend to us, pretending to believe what they manifestly don't: that, for instance, changing dirty diapers in a New Jersey suburb is somehow more fulfilling than living in a luxurious Manhattan apartment dining on pork medallions. 

 

Chef really believes that working a food truck can be more fulfilling than a comfortable job making popular, more mainstream fare. That Jon Favreau chose to make this film when he probably could have made another Hollywood blockbuster gives it additional persuasive power. This is in no way a critique of Begin Again, but at the end of the day John Carney is kind of doing here something very similar to what he did in Once, but with big stars and Manhattan locations. Of course Favreau has big stars too, but when you look at which way they're both going...

 

I enjoyed Chef a lot, but I was grinning ear to ear throughout most of Begin Again.

 

Yes, me too, but, you know, the opposite. smile.png

Edited by SDG

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Interesting points of contrast, SDG. I've not seen Begin Again but had been thinking that, having been a big fan of Once, I'd probably at least like the music. But your contrast of the film to Chef made me realize just how much I enjoyed the music in that film. Now I'm wondering if Begin Again might also pale in comparison to Chef just in terms of the movies' respective soundtracks.

Edited by Christian

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Peter T Chattaway said:

 

:Personally, the trailers and clips have just reminded me how distracting Keira Knightley's facial mannerisms can be, and not in a good way.

 

 

There is some of that, but there are other mannerisms by her that are pretty compelling.  She's got the groove.   :)

 

 

 

: -- comments along the lines of "anyone who knows how the music industry *actually* works will be rolling their eyes" -- 

 

 

Sure.  But this wasn't about how the music industry works, not really.  It's about music as an artform that is meaningful, alive, and lifechanging for people and this in and amongst the music industry.  In other words it's probably in part touchingon how there are things problematic with how the music industry works, in that it's not enough about the actual joy of the music itself, which I think many would agree with.  

 

 

 

 

SDG said:

 

:Mark Ruffalo's relationship with Mos Def, not so much, to me.

 

 

Me either.  This is part of where I didn't think that the story structure held up all that well.  I had problems with Ruffalo's character at the start.  I thought that he was too boozy and washed up to have been still working there and if he had been, then there wasn't enough reason for the flip to switch and for him to be fired.  But also he later just walked back in and was easily accepted again, only to be given the boots too easily again.

 

Also.  At a couple of points he didn't have any money to buy booze, then later on he did with no reason in sight as to how, then, if I remember right, he didn't again.  I just thought that some of the ways the film handled his character and his booziness was clunky.  

 

 

 

:And I will give Begin Again this: I loved Ruffalo's drunken imaginary "arrangement" of Keira's song, as contrived and corny as that scene is.

 

 

Yeah.  That was great.  

 

 

 

 

Evan C said:

 

 

:Personally, I found the power of art to transform and improve our lives more convincingly portrayed in Begin Again.  For instance, the first two musical numbers are the same song.  We hear it first as a simple guitar and voice track, then after flashing back to see how Dan's life has fallen apart, we hear it again.  This time it's the fully orchestrated version he's hearing in his head.  It's still the same song, and it preserves the vulnerable, unpolished quality that gave the song its initial power, but the art has transformed into something that will reach many and also touch the lives of those involved with its creation.

 

 

It gave the indication of the power of having and capturing a creative vision.  I also thought this was great.

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I'm some kind of philistine, I guess, but Once didn't do much for me. It was nice, but no game-changer.  I went into Begin Again expecting it to be a somewhat more rough-edged version of Music & Lyrics (Hugh Grant's washed up 80s pop star is revived by Drew Barrymore's naturally talented ingenue), but it ended up being more than that, and a pleasant surprise. Yes, some elements were probably unrealistic, but the relationships worked, and the music.

 

Haven't seen Chef yet.

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I intentionally shied away from the above posts as I wrote my review (just posted at my blog), but there's plenty of overlap.  This is easily my favorite movie of the summer so far.  Apparently, I need to see Chef, but I loved the multiple dynamics at play in this film, which I think it balanced admirably:  husband/wife, father/daughter, best friends, potential romance, loyal mentors, you name it.  Nice visual motif in the splitter, too, for all that it symbolizes in the sharing of art in its creation and enjoyment. 

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Picked this up last night and found it to be an enjoyably pleasant film.  The connections, as others point out, are certainly a bit contrived, but the characters are winsome (even the heel ex boyfriend playing the guy from Maroon 5).  It felt a little bit to me like Carney was working through a checklist of romantic comedy cliches and checking them off as he went with the opposite choices.  The other thing that felt a little underdeveloped was the idea of what musically dreams are--there was some little bit of fuss over a song that Keira Knightly wrote with Maroon, and then the choice she makes at the end of the credits, but for a movie about a washed up producer and a struggling artist with hit potential making a guerrilla album in NYC, there was precious little tension about the why and the dreams that come from that.  Surely a little exploration about the tension of art and commerce would have worked its way into their relationship--some kind of conflict at least about a particular arrangement, but no, it really was pretty easy and fun.  Even the daughter surprises.  So I felt that a little.  Anyway, were Ruffalo and Keener's characters actually divorced, or were they just separated?  I took it that they were just separated after their issues, and that raised the stakes a little bit in his relationship with Kiera, but my wife took it as they were divorced.  Anyway, my $0.02.  The rooftop scene was fun.

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  Anyway, were Ruffalo and Keener's characters actually divorced, or were they just separated? 

 

They were just separated.

 

this rundown of my increasingly deranged Facebook posts sums up how I felt.

 

Why did no one tell me Mark Ruffalo conducts ghost instruments with his mind in Begin Again?

 

Is Adam Levine playing ersatz Glen Hansard what is this movie

 

Featuring The Baker as the friendzoneded busker.

 

Discussion on whether a cat's purr is booing or cheering how is this real am I hallucinating

 

"When we get into that lead guitar thing, I want it to be a whole different kind of thing. I want it to be punk meets pop."

 

STREET KID CHOIR

 

Mark Ruffalo stop creepy hitting on Keira Knightley while you listen to ironically bad songs together on your splitter headphones as you whimsically amble through the city you still-married perv

 

You thought about a kazoo solo, movie. doesn't excuse squashing a second latter

 

Adam Levine plays the douchey cheating boyfriend and no one punches him in the face Adam Levine come on movie

 

Keira wears some pretty outfits hashtag sayonenicething

Edited by Tyler

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