We all have a story inside us and in John Carney’s case it is accompanied by a soundtrack, an ode to the city in which the action takes place. With “Begin Again,” the director of “Once” now turns his attention to New York City where a burnt-out record producer (played by Mark Ruffalo) and a principled but somewhat pouty songwriter (Keira Knightly) improbably connect and make beautiful (OK, passable) music together.
There’s the “will-they-won’t-they” romance, the domestic complications (on both sides) and one really stand-out performance (James Corden as the unsung hero-catalyst). But mostly it’s a love song to the transformative power of the creative process. The best part of the film, for me anyway, is seeing the music come to life—from the mind’s ear to the cityscape soundstages, performed improvisationally and sometimes on the run.
No recording session has ever gone this smoothly; the right talent is rarely so easy to find and deus ex machina financing is not something that appears every day. But that’s part of the film’s gentle charm. It’s a romantic fantasy where collaboration and creativity come together to give art-for-art’s-sake a starring role.