Fresh Start

Director John Carney hits high notes with 'Begin Again'

John Carney’s follow-up to his 2006 hit Once is similarly slight and caramel-hearted, but it made
me a new fan of things I thought I was over: New York, popular music and Keira Knightley. And unlike Once, Begin Again isn’t in love with hopeless pathos.

The film opens with wooly old A&R man Dan (Mark Ruffalo) at the end of a day spent drinking away his career. At a nightclub, he hears a singer-songwriter named Greta (Keira Knightley), who has been pressured by a friend into performing a song. Greta is a visiting Londoner who’s recently been dropped fast and from a great height as the former consort and collaborator of a world-famous rocker played by Adam Levine of Maroon 5.

Together, Dan and Greta try to heal their own demoralization, working from the ground up. Using a portable studio and New York ambient locations, they make their own demo.

It’s rare in 2014 to see a film with even one determined woman in it, and Begin Again has three: Catherine Keener as Dan’s estranged wife; Hailee Steinfeld, believably fierce as Dan’s angry daughter; and Knightley. Posh and brittle, the too-perfect-looking Knightley shows an aspect of appealing crumbliness as she hits 30.

Begin Again had me at the late-night scene where Greta drunk-dials Dan with a song she’s written titled “Like a Fool,” and the song’s good—Carney is himself enough of a musician to know the difference between something distinctive and popular audio oatmeal.

Like Jersey Boys, Begin Again doesn’t go inflationary about how wowed we’re supposed to be by this music. During the scrappy recording sessions, shot in well-picked, Brooklyn and Manhattan locations, rooftops and alleys, what we hear is a sound, not the sound.

‘Begin Again’ opens July 11 at Summerfield Cinemas. 551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 707.522.0712.