When I heard that the makers of Once were behind Begin Again, I was excited to watch a romantic film and ready to purchase the moving soundtrack on iTunes. I didn’t purchase the soundtrack, but I enjoyed the film nonetheless. On the surface, it’s a film about heartbreak and starting over, but this film had an existential meaning: that you have to accept and love yourself first, before you can love anyone else or be loved. The characters of this film show that sometimes we forget this obvious fact of life because we focus so much on our downfall and how we got there.
Keira Knightley plays Gretta, a British singer/songwriter who followed her musician boyfriend, Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) to New York to build his musical career. We see her as a talented artist who quickly falls behind the scenes and into her boyfriend’s shadow. During a meeting with record company execs, Dave introduces her as his writing partner, but feeling the record company’s motive to focus on Dave as a solo artist, she readily placates herself by saying that she’s not a big part of the writing process for him, and during the studio sessions, she is seen getting coffee for the whole crew. She should be writing songs. Once he becomes a little famous, he becomes an easy-to-hate narcissist, and of course breaks Gretta’s heart. He only turns into a jerk once he starts growing ridiculous facial hair. Sorry, I don’t know the meaning of that, but I had to point that out. Devastated, she resorts to sleeping on her friend’s couch and is dragged to a local bar where she is forced to sing one of her songs in front of the unappreciative crowd, but this is the fateful night where she meets Dan (Mark Ruffalo).
Dan is first introduced to us as a pathetic drunk, who is the ultimate failure: he has a failing career as a music label exec, a failed marriage with his wife Miriam (Catherine Keener), and a distant relationship with his teenage daughter. All this despair is topped with his disappointment in the current state of the crap-filled music industry and his refusal to adapt to the changing music business. All of this changes when he meets Gretta that night at the bar.
He doesn’t see a singer with a guitar on stage; he sees musical magic! Captivated by her talent, he persistently tries to get her to work with him. After getting over some self-esteem issues, she accepts his offer, and the two form a relationship that oozes with chemistry. They embark on recording her first album with a collection of eclectic, underpaid musicians with various parts of New York City as the “recording studio space”. Through this music making process, Gretta regains her confidence as an artist, captures the spotlight that she outlines for herself, gains self-confidence and is able to let go of the past, Dave and his beard.
For Dan, his passion for music is reignited when he makes music with Gretta. His invigorated love for music along with his connection with Gretta allows him to appreciate his self-worth again as a music maker, and in turn, be able to revive his relationship with his estranged wife and daughter.
For Gretta and Dan, they come to self-actualization through their partnership in music and are able to understand what love is again through their connection. They abandon their self-pity and downfall by giving their music and themselves a second chance. This film reminds the audience not to focus on our downfalls but on ourselves instead, and inspires the hope that everything else will fall in place. John Carney portrays this effectively with Knightley’s character journey from being timid to confident, with Ruffalo’s raw emotions and with enjoyable music of course.