There’s a lot to be drawn from the title of “Begin Again.” To start with, it serves as a constant, unwitting reminder that director John Carney (“Once”) should have gone back to the drawing board while making this wonky musical. Secondly, that the title is the safe alternative The Weinstein Co. settled on after ditching the more intriguing “Can a Song Save Your Life?” speaks to the movie’s hypocritical aura of artistic compromise.
Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a boozy yet pure-minded music exec who’s axed from the company he co-founded when he refuses to grow (or perhaps devolve) with today’s pop music climate. Greta (Keira Knightley) is a singer/songwriter who isn’t looking for fame, especially after her rock star ex (Adam Levine) proves that the “sweet life” can sour a great many things. When Dan and Greta find each other, they opt to make a guerilla album in the New York streets, with no budget and MacGyver-esque equipment, in the ultimate act of corporate subversion.
Imagine how vexing it is, then, to find that “Begin Again” is itself no more than a baseline cheese-fest, which revels in banalities even as its characters literally bemoan them aloud. Watching Dan and Greta “buck the system” while housed within a movie so obviously system-orchestrated is like watching a kid with his hand in the cookie jar as he preaches the dangers of sugar. Sure, there are times when insights about the power of music in film ring true in their own meta way, but it’s minor consolation.
What’s more, “Begin Again” requires an epic suspension of disbelief, whether in regard to the trivial fact that no cellphone would allow a voicemail message to run the length of an entire song, or in reference to the notion that Knightley, sweet as her (actual singing) voice may be, is hardly sporting the sort of pipes that would have a guy like Dan seeing stars. Actually, if we’re being accurate, it has Dan seeing instruments come to life, envisioning them magically playing along with Greta. All that’s missing in the puerile spectacle are the Disney mice.
One reel out of four
Now playing at the Ritz East
If you loved “Before Midnight,” don’t miss this beautifully bittersweet tale that follows in the same vein as the Julie Delpy-Ethan Hawke romance. British treasures Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan play an aging couple who return to Paris for vacation, years after spending their honeymoon there. Tensions flare, secrets surface and flames are rekindled as the two engage in a wonderfully watchable actorly duet.
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